Did you know you don’t actually need to be charged with a crime for the government to seize your financial and property assets?
Under U.S. law, it can take only the suspicion of a crime to turn lives upside down and seize the property of innocent citizens.
The civil asset forfeiture law allows government agencies like the IRS or the Department of Justice to confiscate anyone’s property without obtaining criminal charges against them.
Originally intended to seize the assets of money launderers and drug dealers, the law’s low requirement threshold has allowed government agencies to incorrectly identify someone as a possible suspect in a crime take their assets. It can take more than a year for an innocent person who has had their business, property or finances seized to be cleared of wrongdoing, during which time they can lose everything, said Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), who is working to reform the law.
Walberg has introduced the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, which would require the government to show proof that an individual was involved in criminal wrongdoing before it can seize property. Currently before the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation has several cosponsors but may have difficulty passing both the House and Senate.
Wednesday’s new episode of TheBlaze TV’s For the Record, “Seized,” will reveal how thousands of people have become innocent victims of the government’s forfeiture law and what they are doing to fight back.
“This has a tremendous negative impact on our freedoms and the ability to carry on our government the way it’s been established according to the Constitution,” Walberg said. “That’s not what government should be, in the place of being a fearmonger, a producer of fear in the peoples’ lives and ultimately, using their power to extract resources for their own benefit.”
David B. Smith, an asset forfeiture attorney based in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital, told TheBlaze that many small-business owners become targets of the government because they don’t have a full understanding of the law. He said many small-business owners draw the attention of the IRS when they inadvertently engage in “structuring,” a banking tactic often used by money launderers.
Structuring is when someone makes deposits or withdrawals of less $10,000 to avoid having the bank file a currency transaction report with the IRS or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Business owners, however, have told Smith they believed they were following the law when they made deposits or withdrawals of less than $10,000.
Smith, who helped draft the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 and other federal and state forfeiture laws, said the banks don’t warn customers that they will be targeted by the government if they make these types of deposits.
“There are federal judges who don’t know it’s illegal. There are loads of lawyers who don’t know it’s illegal, even criminal defense lawyers, because very few people handle these types of cases,” Smith said.
But it’s not just seizing people’s assets without proper cause that’s a concern. According to the Institute of Justice, a civil liberties law firm and government watchdog group, allegations of overreach by law enforcement have included using forfeiture funds to purchase unnecessary and often outlandish items, including:
• In Georgia, a district attorney’s used forfeiture funds to buy steak, booze and to see CeeLo Green in Concert.
• In Texas, a district attorney used $500 dollars of seized forfeiture funds to buy tequila, rum and a margarita machine to throw a party.
• Another Texas district attorney spent $27,000 to attend a conference in Hawaii.
• A Georgia sheriff’s office spent $90,000 on a Dodge Viper for its D.A.R.E. program.
But it’s what law enforcement officials themselves say that reveals how dependent the agencies have become on forfeiture funds. At a Columbia, Missouri, Citizens Police Review Board in November 2012, Police Chief Ken Burton explained in detail how his department uses the forfeiture funds, saying there are no real limitations on what the departments can buy.
“We usually base it on something that would be nice to have,” Burton. “We usually base it on something that would be nice to have that we can’t get in the budget for. We try not to use it for things that we need to depend on … it’s kinda like ‘Pennies from Heaven’ to get you a toy or something that you need is the way we typically look at it.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Rep. Walberg was named a “Guardian of Small Business” by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) for his voting record on behalf of America’s small-business owners in the 113th Congress.
NFIB President and CEO Dan Danner praised Rep. Walberg for “standing up for small business.” In presenting the group’s coveted Guardian of Small Business Award, Danner said, “Small-business owners are very politically active – paying close attention to how their lawmakers vote on key business issues and stand by those who stand for them.”
“The record shows that Rep.Walberg is a true champion of small business, supporting the votes that matter in the 113th Congress,” said Danner. “This award reflects our members’ appreciation for supporting the NFIB pro-growth agenda for small business.
Rep. Walberg released the following statement after receiving the award:
“With small businesses creating and employing more than 50 percent of the workforce, I am honored to be recognized with an award that champions their success. I will continue to support efforts which create jobs and give small businesses the tools they need to grow and expand.”
NFIB’s “How Congress Voted,” which serves as a report card for members of Congress, was also unveiled this week. The report presents key small-business votes and voting percentages for each lawmaker. Those voting favorably on key small-business issues at least 70 percent of the time during the 113th Congress are eligible for the Guardian award.Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Walberg voted in favor of H.R. 2, the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act, and H.R. 4, the Jobs for America Act. H.R. 2 is a comprehensive package of energy bills already passed by the House and awaiting a Senate vote that would expand energy production and lower energy costs. H.R. 4 is a single jobs package of bills that includes legislation to reduce federal regulations, lower taxes and equip job-creators with the tools they need to succeed.
“American families and American businesses are struggling under excessive federal regulations, high energy costs and burdensome taxes. We can’t afford to wait any longer to address these issues. I’m proud to support these pieces of legislation that reaffirm our commitment to an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and creating jobs for a healthy economy,” said Rep. Walberg following the vote.Read More
Washington, D.C. — Rep. Tim Walberg is proud to announce that Dick and Cathy Caskey from North Adams have been named Angels in Adoption recipients through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). The Caskeys have five biological children and have given 16 adopted children a loving home.
“The Angels in Adoption award could not go to a more deserving couple. Dick and Cathy Caskey feel every child deserves to be in a home where he or she is cherished and have opened their hearts to special needs children over the years that have been challenged with blindness, epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and other difficulties. They are truly an inspiration,” said Rep. Walberg.
The Angels in Adoption program was established in 1999 and is a public awareness campaign and provides an opportunity for all members of the U.S. Congress to honor the good work of their constituents who have enriched the lives of foster children and orphans in the United States and abroad. The Caskeys were honored at the annual CCAI awards ceremony on September 16 in Washington, D.C. with hundreds of other recipients from around the country.Read More
The House on Tuesday passed legislation that would make it easier to discipline and fire senior executives across the federal government.
The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act (H.R. 5169) would make the federal government’s top career officials eligible for one- to 14-day suspensions without pay, and expand the criteria that could be used to justify firing them. Currently, members of the SES can only be suspended for more than 14 days, or fired. Those who are suspended continue to receive pay, must receive 30 days’ advance notice of a proposed suspension, have the right to reply, and the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Agencies can issue a reprimand in lieu of a suspension for lesser offenses.
The new provision allowing for shorter suspensions gives supervisors more flexibility in disciplining senior executives. Opponents of the bill, however, believe it could lead to politically-motivated suspensions.
The final bill also includes a provision that would require SES employees put on administrative leave during the investigation and ultimately fired if the Merit Systems Protection Board sides with the agency, to pay back their salary and accrued annual leave for that period of time to the agency. In addition, the legislation would get rid of a provision in the current law which allows SES employees removed for performance and placed in a General Schedule job from retaining their SES salary.
The House passed H.R. 5169 under a suspension of the rules on Tuesday night.
H.R. 5169 would extend the initial probationary period for SES employees from one to two years. Many of the procedural hurdles that prevent agencies from immediately firing senior executives do not apply when the employees are in their probationary periods. H.R. 5169 also requires agencies to provide a written justification for each of their SES positions every two years, and give employees a written description of their job performance requirements 30 days before each evaluation period.
Senior executives now can be fired for poor performance, misconduct, or the failure to complete assigned duties within the confines of due process. H.R. 5169 would add another reason defined as “such cause as would promote the efficiency of the service.” As of September 2013, there were 7,190 career senior executives in the federal government, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management.
The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and cosponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. – significantly changes SES oversight. H.R. 5169 was inspired by Lois Lerner, the senior executive at the heart of the IRS controversy who continued to collect pay during the investigation and retired at the height of the scandal. Lerner has continued to deny any wrongdoing in the matter.
It’s not the first time, however, that lawmakers have sought to make it easier to fire top career officials who, unlike appointees, have strong job protections within the civil service system so that they can’t be fired for political reasons. In 2013, legislation circulating in both chambers would have allowed the government to put those top career employees on leave without pay for three months pending the outcome of an investigation. The legislation, which Congress did not pass, directed agencies to fire, suspend without pay, or reinstate employees at the end of the 90 days. Congress this summer passed legislation which President Obama signed into law that makes it easier for the Veterans Affairs Department to discipline and fire senior executives engaged in misconduct or wrongdoing.
The Senior Executives Association sent a Sept. 15 letter to members of the House, urging them to vote against the bill, questioning the legality of the legislation.
“Laws already exist to allow agencies to hold employees accountable – supervisors at all levels need to understand the policies and have the will to use them and political leadership needs to support their doing so,” wrote SEA President Carol Bonosaro. “Nonetheless, SEA welcomes the opportunity to engage in a serious attempt at identifying what accountability policies work, which do not and whether problems arise from the policies themselves versus implementation.”
Bonosaro emphasized that SEA understands the desire to hold employees accountability and protect taxpayer money, but “trying to do so through unnecessary – or worse, unconstitutional – policy changes is not the answer.”
Lawmakers voted on an amended version of the bill. The original version included provisions that reduced agency notification to employees of an adverse personnel action from 30 days to 15 days, and another that required SES employees who receive written notice of a pending removal from the civil service to take mandatory annual leave during which they would receive pay, but could not work. Those provisions were dropped from the bill’s final version.To read the original article, click here. Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, the House passed in H.R. 5169, the Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, legislation Rep. Walberg authored to provide greater transparency and accountability within the Senior Executive Service (SES). The Senior Executive Service is comprised of senior level employees in managerial supervisory, and policy positions in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
H.R.5169 would make Senior Executive Service employees subject to the same employment standards as other civil service personnel. It would streamline the process for removing members of the SES for misconduct, subject SES employees to many of the same rules for the employees they supervise, and would limit the amount of time an agency has to complete adverse action proceeding for senior leaders engaged in misconduct.“From the IRS to the VA, the American people have lost trust in the federal government to do the right thing. In many cases, these scandals have been spearheaded or continued by senior executive employees. My bill raises the level of accountability when misconduct occurs and provide greater assurances to the American taxpayer that Washington is being good stewards of their hard-earned dollars,” said Rep. Walberg following the vote. Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Walberg voted for a package of bills to help our nation’s veterans. Among the bills passed with bipartisan support are measures to rein in out-of-control costs of three major Veterans Affairs projects, provide for a cost-of-living increase for certain disabled veterans and their dependents, and extend a number of important programs which help female veterans and homeless veterans.
“I remain committed to assisting our nation’s veterans and ensuring they have access to the benefits they deserve. Today’s legislation illustrates the House’s continued commitment to delivering on these promises while also rooting out waste and abuse within the VA,” said Rep. Walberg following the votes.
Background on bills:
Washington, D.C. - Today, Rep. Walberg helped pass a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. The CCDBG program has not been reauthorized since 1996 and S. 1086, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act modernizes the CCDBG program and implements reforms which enhan
Under D.C. law, after receiving a notice that their property has been seized and is subject to forfeiture, owners have 30 days to file a claim to try to get their property back. Meanwhile, the city has one year to file a civil forfeiture action.
Purportedly, these procedures were not followed with Hardy or the thousands of people he represents as a class. In 2009, the Evidence Control Branch of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) sent out 3,000 asset forfeiture notices. But 2,000 of them were returned to the division unsigned. The Branch’s manager even testified that they usually did not search for other addresses to mail the returned forfeiture notices.
Arguing that the District’s forfeiture policy infringed their Fifth Amendment right to due process, Hardy, along with Donnell Monts, who had $823 taken after his arrest in 2006, filed a class action in 2009. Five years later, the two men will each receive $2,500 as part of the settlement.
Altogether, the nearly 1,400 claimants in the class action lost almost $700,000 to forfeiture, so the settlement will restore roughly three-quarters of what was taken from them. Yet the claimants represent just 14 percent of those affected by this particular D.C. forfeiture policy. Over a six-year period, the Metropolitan Police Department seized a staggering $2.9 million from these owners collectively.
Among the owners represented in the lawsuit, the median amount of cash seized was a mere $120. In fact, the MPD seized as little as $1 from some owners. There is little indication trivial amounts of money can be plausibly tied to the drug trade, noted Sean Day, who was co-counsel on the class action.
Nor is Washington, D.C. an outlier in using civil forfeiture to seize small sums of cash. Research by the Institute for Justice challenges the notion, frequently perpetuated by law enforcement, that civil forfeiture is primarily wielded against sprawling criminal enterprises. In Minnesota, the average value of forfeited property was $1,250, while in Georgia half of the property seized by law enforcement in 2011 was worth less than $650. Since the cost to litigate is often worth more than the property that was taken, many owners do not even contest these seizures.
Yet the class-action settlement does not alter the scant safeguards and perverse incentives created by the District of Columbia’s civil forfeiture regime. To forfeit property, the District only needs to show probable cause, the same standard used to obtain a warrant. Not only do 36 states have a higher standard of proofin all civil forfeiture cases, but probable cause is a far cry from requiring “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is needed to convict someone of a crime. After a property is forfeited, law enforcement can keep all of the proceeds.
These lax laws create potent incentives to police for profit. Between 2010 and 2012, Washington, D.C. generated $4.8 million in forfeiture revenue. “It’s become a cash cow for a lot of jurisdictions frankly,” said Day.
Moreover, the MPD makes liberal use of a federal loophole known as “equitable sharing.” Under this program, local and state law enforcement can collaborate with federal agencies to forfeit property under federal law, thereby bypassing local and state civil forfeiture laws. Local law enforcement can then take a cut of the proceeds from forfeited property. From 2010 to 2012, the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the MPD processed $9.2 million worth of property seized by both joint task forces and the MPD. The MPD kept $2 million in equitable sharing proceeds.
Meanwhile, property owners have to contend with legal proceedings that can be downright baffling, like having to pay for their right to challenge a seizure in court. This “penal sum” is 10 percent of what the property is worth (as determined by the MPD) and can range anywhere from $250 to $2,500. If owners do not pay, the government automatically wins and keeps the property.
After police seized his car in June 2012, Keith Chung, a firefighter, was told to pay a bond of $2,075 before he could challenge the seizure in court. Police never charged Chung with any crime. After the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia intervened, he got his car back .
Moreover, unlike criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the owners—they are assumed guilty unless they prove their innocence. In order to retrieve their property, owners have to show by a “preponderance of the evidence” they have no connection to a crime to prevail, a higher burden of proof than what the D.C. government needs to forfeit property. Since these forfeiture cases are in civil court, owners do not have a right to court-appointed counsel, even if they are indigent.
In the class action that was settled, the attorneys’ hourly rate was just north of $250. So an hour of legal help was worth twice as much as the property taken from Hardy and many others. As the case makes clear, many owners simply do not have the means to challenge the government in court.
Nor is the government required to maintain or preserve property it has seized. In a separate, currently-pending forfeiture class action filed against the District, police seized and held onto Takia Jenkins’ car for almost a year. She was never charged with a crime nor was her car involved in any criminal prosecution. When she finally got her car back, the windows were damaged and the car wouldn’t start. Mold had even formed on the inside.
Last year, six members of the D.C. city council introduced a bill that would have overhauled civil forfeiture in the District. While it did not pass, the council is expected to reconsider forfeiture reform when it reconvenes in the fall. On the federal level, Rep. Tim Walberg and Sen. Rand Paul have introduced legislation that would either restrict or outright eliminate participation in equitable sharing, preventing law enforcement from trying to circumvent forfeiture reforms at the local level.
Speaking at a panel in July on civil forfeiture at the Heritage Foundation, Congressman Walberg described his bill as “common-sense,” as it “does not detract from good law enforcement.” Americans, he added, should live “without the fear of overweening government.”To read the original article at Forbes, click here. Read More
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Walberg voted in favor of H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act. H.R. 5078 upholds the successful federal-state partnership in place for 40 years and would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers from expanding federal regulations to nearly all bodies of water without Congressional approval. The bill passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 262 -152.“For over 40 years the Clean Water Act has successfully protected our nation’s waters. This bipartisan legislation provides a much needed safeguard for our nation’s farmers, manufacturers and property owners from a federal bureaucratic overreach, while still protecting our nation’s waterways,” said Rep. Walberg following the vote. Read More
2436 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Tim Walberg is currently serving his third term in Congress as the representative of south-central Michigan. The diverse constituency of Michigan’s 7th District encompasses Branch, Eaton, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, and Monroe Counties, along with parts of Washtenaw County. Since first taking office, Tim has hosted hundreds of coffee and town hall meetings to better understand the thoughts and concerns of the district.
Prior to his time in public office, Tim served as a pastor in Michigan and Indiana, as president of the Warren Reuther Center for Education and Community Impact, and as a division manager for Moody Bible Institute. He also served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1983 to 1999, and is proud to bring his reputation as a principled legislator, fiscal reformer, and defender of traditional values to Washington.
In the 113th Congress, Tim serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee as Chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee. In addition, he serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
He and his wife, Sue, have been married for over 39 years, and enjoy spending time outdoors and riding on their Harley. They live in Tipton, Michigan, where they raised their three children: Matthew, Heidi and Caleb.
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I was honored to give out tributes to the honorees at the Saline Chamber of Commerce's Business Enterprise Awards. http://t.co/43QTmP8mP6
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I was privileged to speak to the students at Dundee High School this week and unveil a portrait of George Washington that was donated to the
Recent health and safety related incidents in the US surrounding the Ebola crisis have made it beyond clear the Administration’s current procedures
This week I met with Bruce Parkes, executive VP/Manager of West Side Distributing, about regulatory issues facing employers in Eaton County
Today I spoke at the ribbon cutting for the new Family Medical Center in Adrian which will deliver healthcare to our neighbors in need.
While my first priority is to serve the best interests of Michigan’s 7th district and uphold the Constitution, I also look for opportunities