Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Law Enforcement Agencies Across State Engage in Shakedown of Mexican Restaurants for Cold-Hard Cash

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Officials are looking to hang on to the more than $3.4 million confiscated last fall during raids at dozens of Mexican restaurants in Indianapolis and other locations across the state.

In a civil forfeiture lawsuit filed Friday, the Tippecanoe County prosecutor's office accuses El Rodeo's owners and other parties in the businesses of obtaining the money illegally. Therefore, the suit claims, the defendants should forfeit the money and return it to the criminal justice system.

...

Police across the state served search warrants Nov. 18 during raids at restaurants and homes. El ­Rodeo establishments in Indianapolis, Avon, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Richmond, Fortville and Mooresville were searched.

Other Mexican-themed restaurants also were raided, including El Jaripeo eateries in Indianapolis, Lebanon, Frankfort and Zionsville; Los Toros restaurants in Indianapolis; and three La Carreta Restaurant & Bars, in Schererville, Vincennes and Merrillville.

The Tippecanoe County lawsuit ­alleges that perjury and forgery ­occurred through falsified tax documents, business formation documents, employment records and tax returns.

..
The Tippecanoe County allegations seem more than a bit dubious.  Alleged perjury and forgery on those types of tax and business documents would not generally be something targeted by prosecutors.  However, local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies could well have been incentivized to conduct the raid in order to get their hands on cash for their departments.   Under Indiana law, they don't have to pursue criminal charges against these restaurant owners.   Instead in a civil case, those owners will have to hire their own attorneys and face a lower standard of proof, all the while facing the possibility of being criminally prosecuted if they don't give in and let the prosecutor and law enforcement agencies keep the money.  People for whom English is a second language are even more intimidated by this type of lawsuit..  Many of those who are hit with civil forfeiture just end up walking away from their cash and property rather than try to fight.

Nonetheless, under Indiana law, law enforcement is only entitled to keep civil forfeiture proceeds to cover the cost of the action.  The balance is to go to the Common School Fund.  My research updated a couple years ago, showed that officials in Tippecanoe, Marion, Hendricks, Madison and Morgan counties, all places where these raids took place, are simply pocketing 100% of the money in contravention of the law.  The article does, however, note a raid took place in Richmond, Indiana.  In that county, the Wayne County Prosecutor was one of the few prosecutors in the state who made it a point to determine law enforcement costs in civil forfeiture actions in accordance with the law and to cut a check to the Common School Fund for the balance.

5 comments:

Ellen said...

I had the same reaction, Paul.

Seems like a ploy to enrich themselves at the expense of businesses doing NOTHING illegal (or there would have been criminal charges).

How can this type of extortion by law enforcement be legal?

Unigov said...

Comments from your friendly extremist:

1. This is racist. Even if the money was sourced illegally, are Mexicans the only crooks in town ? The amount taken has to be less than the amount of pay-to-play raised in recent years at 200 E Washington.

2. Civil forfeiture is a dangerous weapon, a method of legalized theft reminiscent of Mussolini. Nowadays the government gets has every conceivable financial record from everyone, and if they can't drum up RICO charges with all that evidence, then grabbing the cash is ...uhhh... grabbing the cash.

3. Where the h3ll is the oversight ? The AG? The Indiana Judicial Center? The ACLU?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Unigov,

AG Zoeller has lent active support to these prosecutors who continue to pocket 100% of the money in violation of the law.

The problem is you get to the end of the civil forfeiture case, the civil forfeiture defendant is out of the case, and the judges are just signing whatever order is put in front of them regarding disposal of the civil forfeiture proceeds. No hearing is held in which the court makes the prosecutor's office prove what actual expenses they had. The orders always have law enforcement keeping 100% even though they're legally entitled to just the costs of the action with the balance going to the Common School Fund.

Anna Friend said...

Paul, many in our community are outraged over this. Thanks for the post. I'm passing it around.

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