DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 176 July 4, 2000 

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 176 July 4, 2000 
Posted by FoM on July 04, 2000 at 19:31:12 PT
Be A Patriot Fight The Drug Warriors With A Letter
Source: MapInc.
"Whatever Happened To Innocent Until Proven Guilty?" While celebrating Independence Day, Americans might to keep in mind that drug prohibition creates institutions with little respect for liberty or justice. US News And World Report this week describes South Florida Impact, a drug task force that treats the innocent like they are guilty. 
The task force has nearly destroyed businesses by wrongly accusing owners of drug crimes. And Impact still kept some of their money.It seems Impact is more concerned with the size of citizen's assets than in abstract notions like fairness. Such imperial behavior is supported by drug warriors like Barry McCaffrey. It is understandable why other area police are supporters too. As the article notes, "...Impact funds itself entirely through asset seizures, and it doles out millions more dollars to area police departments." The alleged goal of Impact is to reduce crime, but Impact itself has been laundering money, almost as much as it has seized. Please write a letter to US News to thank editors for the article even though it's a sad reminder of how the ideals of the Declaration of Independence are ignored in order to escalate the drug war. WRITE A LETTER TODAYIt's not what others do it's what YOU do PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER OR TELL US WHAT YOU DID (Letter, Phone, fax etc.) Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlet if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to MGreer Your letter will then be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts and be motivated to follow suit. This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our impact and effectiveness.CONTACT INFOSource: U.S. News and World Report (US) Contact: letters ARTICLEUS FL: A Case Study In Policing For Profit URL: Newshawk: Sledhead Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 Source: U.S. News and World Report (US) Copyright: 2000 U.S. News & World Report Contact: letters Address: 1050 Thomas Jefferson Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20007-3871 Fax: (202) 955-2685 Feedback: Website: Forum: Author: David E. Kaplan A CASE STUDY IN POLICING FOR PROFIT A 'Model' Drug Task Force Comes Under Fire Clay Waterman was dumbfounded. Authorities in Miami had seized his company's checking account, bank officials told him last June, for reasons unknown.Waterman was the manager of Penn Industries, a family-run supplier of auto accessories in Oklahoma City, and neither he nor the company had ever had trouble with the law before. Behind the seizure, Waterman soon learned, was a police task force known as South Florida Impact. The task force, it turned out, had grown suspicious when Penn's only Colombian client had used a money exchanger to make cash deposits of $2,500 into Penn's Florida account. Impact claimed the deposits were profits from illegal drug deals. So it seized Penn's entire account and some $78,000, including its payroll and operating accounts. Facing bankruptcy, Penn's owner cashed in his retirement funds and took out a mortgage on his home. It was only after two months of negotiation and $13,000 in legal fees and that Impact released all but $3,000 of the money. "There was no due process," says Waterman. "Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?" You might say it fell victim to America's drug wars. To help break the back of the nation's $50 billion narcotics trade, law enforcement has increasingly turned to asset forfeiture, a process allowing the government to seize cash, cars, homes, and other property it claims is the result of criminal activity. Forfeiture abuse has grown so common in recent years that Congress passed a law in April raising the burden of proof required before federal agents can take action. Significantly, though, the new law affects only federal seizures.And as Clay Waterman can attest, many of the worst abuses occur at the local level.Operating under a patchwork of state laws, local police departments have turned forfeiture into a cash cow that pays for new buildings, squad cars, and equipment.Police along interstates in the South are notorious for stopping drivers and relieving them of "suspect" cash. And cops in Missouri last year outraged citizens by circumventing a state law directing forfeited funds to education: The cops simply turned over their seizures to federal agents, who kicked back up to 80 percent to local police. "The focus is on short-term, easy money, not detective work," laments Bill Gately, a former U.S. customs money-laundering expert. "When I went to police chiefs on big cases, I had to show what the financial return was."Policing for profit may have reached its highest form in Florida and where billions in drug money wash through the state each year and, in particular, with Impact. A force of some 50 officers backed by nearly a dozen police agencies, Impact funds itself entirely through asset seizures, and it doles out millions more dollars to area police departments. It has helped seize no less than $140 million in suspected drug money since 1994, while confiscating over 30 tons of cocaine and nearly 7 tons of marijuana. And its work has resulted in 532 arrests and 71 deportations. Barry McCaffrey, the nation's drug czar, has cited Impact as a model of effective law enforcement. But to others, Impact is a case study in what has gone wrong with the headlong pursuit of criminal money: a record, they say, of unwarranted seizures, poor accountability, and cops more intent on grabbing cash than crooks. A good deal. Impact was the brainchild of two retired federal agents, Woody Kirk of the U.S. Customs Service and Mike Wald of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Wald gained national attention posing as a Saudi sheik's assistant in the 1970s Abscam sting. In 1993, the two men pitched a novel idea to Miami-area police chiefs: a self-sustaining task force on money laundering that would split all seized assets among participating police departments. Unlike Wald, who joined Impact as a Coral Gables police commander, Kirk became a full-time consultant to the group. Along with his expertise in money laundering, he brought a gold mine of informants from whom he hoped to profit. And profit he did. In a move that angered many in law-enforcement circles, Kirk fashioned an unusual deal in which Impact paid him 25 percent of all assets he helped seize. In just the first year, according to a state audit, Kirk earned $625,000. "It was," Kirk said, "a very good deal."Too good, perhaps.On learning of Kirk's commissions, the U.S. Justice Department threatened to cut off all cooperation unless the commissions stopped. Impact complied, putting Kirk on a retainer that pays him $10,666 each month.But Kirk's deals with informants continued. In an interview, Kirk confirmed that, as the commissions ended, he asked two of his informants to sign contracts pledging him a share of the 15 percent they received as a reward from asset seizures. One agreement, obtained by U.S. News, reveals that Kirk lent the man $50,000 and, in return, was to receive 60 percent of the informant's reward money. Kirk admits lending another informant $115,000, also an advance on reward money.Kirk says these contracts were meant only as "an insurance policy" in case he left Impact, and he insists he personally never made money from them. But veteran law-enforcement officials say such deals, even if not illegal, undermine the integrity of police work and create conflicts of interest.Former customs agent Bill Gately calls the commissions "abhorrent. . . . It just grates on the nerves of a lot of cops who did the work Kirk has done." Says John Moynihan, a former DEA specialist in dirty cash: "In money-laundering investigations, there can be no room for personal interest in any transaction." Impact officials also expressed surprise at Kirk's side deals and said that the matter is now under review. Small comfort.Of broader concern is Impact's dependence on forfeitures for its entire budget, which has fueled charges that it is overaggressive in seizing property.Wald says that 95 percent of Impact's seizures go uncontested, but that's small comfort to Hernon Manufacturing. In 1998, the Orlando-based epoxy maker found its main bank account frozen after Impact traced a deposit back to its lone Colombian client. Agents seized over $30,000, including Hernon's payroll; months later, most of the money was released. (Officials kept $6,000 for "legal fees.") Another 1998 case nearly bankrupted Omega Medical Electronics, a three-person supplier of medical instruments in Wilmington, N.C. Impact seized its entire account after tracing cash deposits from a Colombian client to a Miami branch of Omega's bank. Almost two years later, officials agreed to return nearly all of the funds. Critics also say Impact is overreaching as it runs far-flung cases overseas and engages in money laundering on a scale virtually unheard of for a local operation.The task force performs undercover "stings" to catch real money launderers, but the practice is controversial. To create a convincing front, Impact itself has washed more than $120 million since 1994, and that money has largely recycled back to drug dealers. These funds should be offset by the $140 million Impact has helped seize, but that is not enough of a return for some laundering experts. "You want to seize at least twice what you launder," argues ex-DEA analyst Moynihan. "If not, you're creating as much crime as you're solving." Accountability is also a concern. When the DEA and FBI run undercover laundering cases, they must prepare inch-thick plans that are approved by the attorney general herself, with frequent reviews by special auditors. By contrast, Impact's oversight comes from a steering committee of state and local officials, with audits by the city of Coral Gables. "We've never missed a nickel," says director James Butler. Butler attributes all the flack against Impact largely to turf battles among rival agencies. "Nearly all the criticism is professional jealousy," he says. Still, concerns have mounted to the point where the DEA and Customs Service in Miami will no longer work with Impact, and the Justice Department is conducting a review. Depending on the outcome, the inquiry could halt federal participation with the group entirely. Such a move, critics say, could send an overdue message to hundreds of local police agencies now hooked on money from asset seizures.SAMPLE LETTERTo the editor of US News and World Report: I found the story "A Case Study in Policing For Profit" (July10) very disturbing, but I'm glad US News brought it to the public's attention. The drug war breeds the type of contempt for citizens displayed by South Florida Impact. The nerve of supposed public servants who unapologetically pillage innocent private businesses, keeping "legal fees" even when the businesses are exonerated, is outrageous. The task force members make a great living and they help the elites of the underworld by laundering millions of dollars in drug money, but there's no shortage of illegal drugs in south Florida. Those who want them can get them, those who want to stay away from them must do so on their own.The truth is, groups like South Florida Impact don't want illegal drugs to go away. They simply want to reap the profits of the black market just like their counterparts in the illegal drug business. The dealers and drug warriors are making the most out of drug prohibition. Until the drug war finally ends, the best an average American can hope for is to avoid the crossfire.Stephen YoungIMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone numberPlease note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work. ADDITIONAL INFO to help you in your letter writing efforts3 Tips for Letter Writers: Letter Writers Style Guide: TO SUBSCRIBE, DONATE, VOLUNTEER TO HELP, OR UPDATE YOUR EMAIL SEE: UNSUBSCRIBE SEE: Prepared by Stephen Young Focus Alert Specialist Related Article:A Case Study In Policing For Profit MapInc. Archives:
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