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Understanding Federal Asset Forfeiture Laws

Last week, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma announced that it had been involved in collecting nearly $5 million in asset forfeiture from criminal cases in fiscal year 2014. U.S. Attorney Sanford Coats reported that the office partnered with other agencies and divisions in other asset forfeiture actions which resulted in the collection of an additional $5.4 million in FY 2014.

The above figures represent only asset forfeiture from criminal action, not the funds the Western District collected from civil cases, which totaled more than $25.9 million.

Also last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that civil and criminal collections from FY 2014 totaled $24.7 billion nationwide.

The federal Western District of Oklahoma encompasses 40 of the state’s 77 counties, making it the largest federal judicial district in Oklahoma. From these 40 counties, the federal government received approximately $10 million in seized and forfeited assets from criminal actions.

What is asset forfeiture, and how does federal law apply?

The Asset Forfeiture Program is a division of the United States Department of Justice. It “encompasses the seizure and forfeiture of assets that represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate federal crimes.” In other words, the Asset Forfeiture Program is intended to take the profit out of crime and to protect safety and security by removing the proceeds through which criminals can further their criminal enterprises.

The FBI says that many crimes are motivated by greed; therefore, the Asset Forfeiture Program is “an effective law enforcement tool by reducing the incentive for illegal conduct.” In theory, if you know the yacht you bought with embezzled funds or drug proceeds will be seized upon your conviction, the crime may not be worth the risk. It is an attempt to prove the adage that “crime doesn’t pay.”

The FBI reports four types of asset forfeiture actions:

  • Criminal Forfeiture Actions
  • Civil Forfeiture Actions
  • Administrative Forfeiture Actions
  • Judicial Forfeiture Actions

Of course, the government cannot simply come in and seize any and all property it desires under the guise of the asset forfeiture program. There are a number of laws governing asset forfeiture, and a Justice Department document highlighting “Selected Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes” is a 219 page document covering 142 statutes.

Suffice it to say, any proceeds from criminal activity, whether cash or property, may be forfeited under the federal Asset Forfeiture Program. If you are indicted in a criminal case, or if you are the subject of federal civil proceedings, you face not only criminal, civil, and/or administrative penalties, but also the forfeiture of assets obtained as a result of or in furtherance of a crime or civil wrongdoing. Contact a federal defense lawyer to learn more.

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