Civil Asset Forfeiture Victim Fights and Wins When the Government Tries to Take His Property

Civil Asset Forfeiture Victim Fights and Wins When the Government Tries to Take His Property

The government sure does like to punish hardworking citizens for things they have absolutely no control over. One homeowner had never been convicted of a crime in his entire life, but a few people who stayed on his property did, and his house was worth a decent amount of money, so the government saw an opportunity, and went after his house.


Russ Caswell, a 72-year-old business owner from Massachusetts, got one of those letters. Except the government seized his entire business — a motel worth nearly $2 million — without so much as a warning.

“When this first started, I got this notice in the mail and I thought it was some sort of mistake or something, with no warning, no nothing … basically, after you got through all the legal mumbo jumbo, it said, ‘We’re taking your property,’ and I was dumbfounded,” Caswell told TheBlaze.

The Drug Enforcement Administration seized the budget motel under civil property forfeiture regulations because the agency claimed illegal activity was taking place at the establishment. The Motel Caswell then became the centerpiece of a bizarre federal court case: The United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

… The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public-interest law firm, learned of Caswell’s case and decided to help; by the time they took the case pro bono, the Caswells had already spent nearly $100,000 in legal bills trying to keep their motel.

“Seeking to circumvent state law and cash in on the profits, the Tewksbury Police Department teamed up with the United States Department of Justice to take and sell the Caswells’ property because a tiny fraction of people staying there during the past 14 years were arrested for drug crimes,” the Institute for Justice states on its site. “Keep in mind, the Caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property. And during those 14 years, the government pointed to a mere 15 arrests—out of more than 200,000 rooms rented during that time by the Caswells.”

In January, a federal judge ruled against the government and stopped the forfeiture. But taxpayers still lost out: the government then had to pay back the nearly $1,000,000 in legal fees racked up during the trial.

Caswell rightly pointed out that most people don’t have the money to fight the government, which is what they’re counting on: that the people they bully won’t have the courage and money to fight back. Unfortunately for them, it backfired on them big time when they went after Caswell.

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