Oklahoma state audits from 2009 to 2014 have revealed that while some property and funds seized by law enforcement agencies have gone missing, others have been used by Oklahoma state officials for personal and other improper uses.
Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism organization, reported that the list of violations included “using seized money to pay on a prosecutor’s student loans” and “allowing a prosecutor to live rent-free in a confiscated house for years.”
Republican State Sen. Kyle Loveless, who is sponsoring a bill that intends to curb the abuses of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement, told Oklahoma Watch that the more he learns about the practice, the more upset and outraged he becomes.
“Your property is considered guilty until proven innocent,” Loveless said. “It is up to the individual to petition the government after they’ve seized it to prove that it is innocent. To me, that, on its face, is un-American.”
Under the current law, once police seize either property of funds from a suspect, a judge is asked to grant forfeiture on those assets and they are transferred to the District Attorney’s office, where the proceeds are supposed to be used for the enforcement of drug laws.
Loveless’ bill, Senate Bill 838, would create the Personal Asset Protection Act, and would not allow seized assets to be forfeited unless the suspect is convicted.
The bill was called the “single worst, most damning piece of legislation” for drug enforcement by Sheriff Randall Edwards, who said that it if passed, it would “set the war on drugs back twenty years and will literally allow drug traffic to go unchecked in Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma Watch reported that in one case, a 2009 audit revealed that after a house was seized in 2004, and a judge ordered to have it sold at an auction, a Beaver County assistant district attorney lived in it rent-free until 2009, paid for all utility bills and repairs with his supervision fee account and did not report the benefit as income for tax purposes.
In another case, a 2014 audit found that $5,000 in forfeiture funds had been used to pay for an assistant district attorney’s student loans, and after the payments were revealed, the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council returned the money using funds from its own student-loan program.
Oklahoma Watch also noted that according to the audits, “many district attorneys’ districts did not have written formal policies governing seized property,” and in many cases, “local law enforcement agencies did not keep an inventory of seized items.”
The audit reports found cases where seized money was spent before it was forfeited in court, some forfeiture cases were never reported, seized money was used to pay for a retirement party, seized assets such as guns, money and vehicles could not be accounted for, and money from forfeitures was spent on court costs.