“Whatever Happened To Innocent Until Proven Guilty?”

Date: Tue, 04 Jul 2000
Subject: “Whatever Happened To Innocent Until Proven Guilty?”

“Whatever Happened To Innocent Until Proven Guilty?”


DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 176 July 4, 2000


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

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.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


Phone, fax etc.)

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This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.



Source: U.S. News and World Report (US)
Contact: letters@usnews.com



US FL: A Case Study In Policing For Profit
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00.n911.a01.html
Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jul 2000
Source: U.S. News and World Report (US)
Copyright: 2000 U.S. News & World Report
Contact: letters@usnews.com
Address: 1050 Thomas Jefferson Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20007-3871
Fax: (202) 955-2685
Feedback: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/usinfo/infomain.htm
Website: http://www.usnews.com/
Forum: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/forum.htm
Author: David E. Kaplan


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=ADsome $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=ADand $13,000 in legal fees=ADthat 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=ADwhere billions in drug money wash through the state each
year=ADand, 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

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.



To 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 Young

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