Feds keep most of seized $46,000 from Maine man

By New Hampshire Union Leader

Federal prosecutors have agreed to return $7,000 to a Maine man as part of a settlement stem

August 04. 2018 8:37PM

CONCORD — Federal prosecutors have agreed to return $7,000 to a Maine man as part of a settlement stemming from the seizure of $46,000 in cash during a traffic stop on I-95 in 2016.

A state police trooper stopped Alexander Temple, of Portland, Maine, for moving violations and conducted a search of the vehicle, discovering the stacks of bills in a paper bag. Temple was never charged with a crime related to the money, but the U.S. Attorney’s office seized the cash through a process known as civil asset forfeiture.

The practice has been widely criticized by civil liberties groups on both sides of the political spectrum. The federal asset forfeiture program, known as equitable sharing, was partially curtailed by former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions revived it in 2017.

Civil asset forfeiture allows police and prosecutors to seize money or property they believe to used in, or the proceeds of, a crime without having to charge the owner with committing a crime. Once the asset is in the government’s possession, the burden of proof is on the owner to demonstrate that the property was legally obtained and used.

IF the owner does not succeed in meeting that burden of proof, the prosecutors and police divvy up the proceeds.

“Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property — regardless of the owner’s guilt or innocence,” the libertarian Institute for Justice wrote in its annual Policing for Profit report.

Prosecutors and police argue that civil forfeiture is a valuable law enforcement tool that deprives criminals of their profits.

This year, the state Senate passed legislation that would limit state and local law enforcement agencies from referring civil forfeiture cases to the federal government unless the amount in question exceeds $100,000. The bill is in interim study in the House.

Local police sometimes prefer to work with federal prosecutors on forfeiture cases because federal law stipulates that up to 80 percent of the seized assets can be returned to the law enforcement agency. Under New Hampshire state law, a conviction is required to seize property and the police are only allowed to keep 45 percent of the proceeds.

In the case settled last week by the U.S. Attorney’s office, a second man, Edward E. Phipps, who listed his address as a P.O. box in Bridgeton, Maine, claimed ownership of the $46,000.

Temple had originally told authorities that it was a lone repayment for his sister and then a family inheritance. His family members disputed both claims.

Phipps told the court he was the rightful, legal owner of the money.

On July 24, he reached a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office that stipulated the government would keep $39,000 and he would regain the remainder.

This article provided by NewsEdge.