Asset Forfeiture:

An Update

T-GGD-89-17: Published: Apr 24, 1989. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 1989.

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GAO discussed how the Customs Service and the Department of Justice (DOJ) could more quickly process seized assets. GAO noted that: (1) such seized assets as cash and real estate have increased by 3,200 percent since 1979, now totalling $1.1 billion; (2) both Customs and DOJ used their asset forfeiture funds to finance program expenses, share with state and local law enforcement agencies, and fund drug enforcement activities; (3) judicial forfeiture, required for seized cash amounts over $100,000, took longer than administrative forfeiture; (4) no one contested 89 percent of judicially forfeited cash, resulting in default judgments; (5) neither DOJ nor Customs had policies on how long transfer of seized assets to forfeiture funds should take, and frequently took more than 30 days to accomplish transfer; and (6) property equity, value, and title problems made disposal of forfeited real estate time-consuming and unprofitable.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Public Law 101-382 implemented this recommendation.

    Matter: Congress should revise existing law to allow Customs and DOJ to administratively forfeit uncontested cash seizures. Specific language is needed for: (1) Customs' revision of 19 U.S.C. 1607(a) by adding "such seized merchandise as monetary instruments"; and (2) DOJ revision of 28 U.S.C. 524(c) by adding similar language.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 101-382 implemented this recommendation.

    Matter: To ensure that large uncontested cash seizures are processed in a timely manner and adequately monitored, Congress should amend Public Law 100-690, Sections 6072 and 7364, to require that annual forfeiture fund reports to Congress include data on uncontested cash seizures over $100,000 which are not transferred to the forfeiture fund within 120 days of seizure.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 101-647 implemented this recommendation.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation to amend civil forfeiture law stating that the U.S. government guarantees clear title upon completion of the civil forfeiture process.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Justice fully implemented the first part of this recommendation. Justice has not established separate processing procedures for cash seizures over $100,000. Rather, in each of the past two fiscal years, it has sent notices to its staff reminding them that all cash seizures are now subject to the less cumbersome administrative processing procedures.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury should: (1) ensure that, upon enactment of appropriate legislation, cash cases over $100,000 which have not had complaints for forfeiture filed with the court are reviewed for conversion to administrative forfeiture; and (2) establish priority processing of uncontested administrative cash seizures over $100,000.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs fully implemented the first part of this recommendation. Also, by memo dated September 14, 1990, Customs notified its employees that all cash seizures are now subject to the less cumbersome administrative processing procedures.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury should: (1) ensure that, upon enactment of appropriate legislation, cash cases over $100,000 which have not had complaints for forfeiture filed with the court are reviewed for conversion to administrative forfeiture; and (2) establish priority processing of uncontested administrative cash seizures over $100,000.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Justice has established time standard goals for transferring funds from the holding accounts to the asset forfeiture fund.

    Recommendation: To ensure that cash is transferred timely and large cash forfeitures receive priority, the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury should transfer: (1) forfeited cash of $100,000 or more from the holding account to asset forfeiture funds within 7 days of forfeiture; and (2) all other forfeited cash from the holding account to asset forfeiture funds within 30 days of forfeiture.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Recommended time standards for transfers have been adopted by Customs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that cash is transferred timely and large cash forfeitures receive priority, the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury should transfer: (1) forfeited cash of $100,000 or more from the holding account to asset forfeiture funds within 7 days of forfeiture; and (2) all other forfeited cash from the holding account to asset forfeiture funds within 30 days of forfeiture.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USMS has updated its seized asset handbook and instituted a nationwide system to review district operations, including compliance with policies.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should: (1) ensure that professional appraisals and title searches be normally obtained before a complaint for forfeiture is filed, and in those situations where a thorough analysis of defendant equity/forfeitable interest before seizure would jeopardize an investigation, professional appraisals and title searches should be done within 60 days of seizure; (2) consider including the estimated forfeitable interest in civil complaints for forfeiture so that the financial merits of the case will be known before the judicial proceedings begin; (3) establish a quick release policy whereby heavily encumbered properties (low or non-existent forfeitable interest) could be timely released to innocent co-owners or lienholders so those parties can pursue recovery of their vested interests; and (4) ensure that specific language regarding clear title is provided to key congressional committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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