Better Care and Disposal of Seized Cars, Boats, and Planes Should Save Money and Benefit Law Enforcement

PLRD-83-94: Published: Jul 15, 1983. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 1983.

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GAO reported on the government's storage, care, and use of vehicles, vessels, and aircraft that are seized and forfeited for transporting controlled substances and illegal aliens.

GAO found that seized conveyances are normally held by law enforcement agencies for prolonged periods awaiting forfeiture to the government, during which time they receive little care, maintenance, or protection. GAO noted that, when the conveyances are sold, they often sell for only a fraction of their appraised value at seizure, largely because of their poor condition and ineffective federal sales practices. Further, if the agencies acquire the forfeited conveyances for their official use, they usually have high startup and continual repair costs. GAO also noted that storage problems with seized property have periodically hindered law enforcement efforts. GAO concluded that these problems, if not resolved, will likely become more extensive as the use of seizure as a means of fighting crime increases.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984: (1) raised the forfeiture limit for conveyances; (2) established funds from forfeited conveyances to store, maintain, and dispose of other conveyances; and (3) increased reporting requirements.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation to: (1) raise or remove the administrative forfeiture limit for conveyances transporting illegal narcotics, other forms of prohibited merchandise, and illegal aliens; (2) establish special funds from the proceeds of forfeited conveyances seized by the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to enable these agencies, in such amounts as provided in annual congressional appropriations acts, to adequately inventory, store, protect, and maintain seized property and to properly clean, repair, and advertise the property for increased sales revenue; and (3) require agencies to report to Congress the number and value of conveyances that are retained for use or that are exchanged or sold to obtain new conveyances so they can be easily monitored.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO testified that Treasury and Justice have established new policies and taken other corrective actions. On September 11, 1987, Justice awarded a contract for development of the recommended information system.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General should: (1) establish information systems to measure the effectiveness of their agencies' management of seized property, including forfeiture time frames, conveyance values at seizure, appraisal source, sales return, sales return as a percentage of seizure valuation, storage and maintenance costs, and incidents of deterioration, vandalism, and theft; and (2) institute policies that require property managers to consider the costs of property devaluation and lower sales returns in addition to the direct costs for security, storage, and maintenance, when determining the extent and quality of care to be provided for seized property.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The current GAO review of seized cash indicates that weaknesses continue in Drug Enforcement Administration and Customs Service information systems, along with other policy and procedural weaknesses. Reviews should be completed in mid-1987. An information system was established, but Customs continues to have accounting and information problems with seized property and particularly seized cash.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General should: (1) establish information systems to measure the effectiveness of their agencies' management of seized property, including forfeiture time frames, conveyance values at seizure, appraisal source, sales return, sales return as a percentage of seizure valuation, storage and maintenance costs, and incidents of deterioration, vandalism, and theft; and (2) institute policies that require property managers to consider the costs of property devaluation and lower sales returns in addition to the direct costs for security, storage, and maintenance, when determining the extent and quality of care to be provided for seized property.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been implemented. A section was added to Treasury Bulletin 84-2 for parts one, two, and three of this recommendation. Part four was taken care of by C.F.R. 171.12 and C.F.R. 171.13. The Deputy Director reviews property up to $100,000. The time frame has been reduced for posting claims from 60 days to 30 days.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury, to reduce the Customs Service's lengthy forfeiture process, should: (1) adopt procedures for notifying owners that their property has been seized and requesting that titles and contracts be submitted with the petitions for return of the property; (2) require petitioners seeking return of seized property to state the basis on which such claims are made, provide available evidence to support such claims, and provide proof of ownership or interest to assist the agency in conducting its investigations; (3) reduce the time frames for petitioners to post claims and for Customs to investigate petitions; and (4) reduce the review levels for property valued over $25,000.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs has been made the responsible custodian for the property it seizes.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Marshals Service should continue to seek court procedure changes that will appoint the Customs Service as the substitute custodian for the property it seizes to reduce staff time and unnecessary expenditures and to increase sales proceeds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: United States Marshals Service

 

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