The Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of drug activity over the last decade, but $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.
A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns.
In total, the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures. Those figures do not include other property, such as cars and electronics, which are favorite targets for seizure by law enforcement.
All of this is possible through civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property if they suspect it’s connected to criminal activity, without having to file criminal charges against the owner. While law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug traffickers and organized crime, the Inspector General’s findings echo the concerns of many civil liberties groups, which say asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize property.
“When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution,” the Inspector General warned.