Asset Forfeiture--A Seldom Used Tool in Combating Drug Trafficking

GGD-81-51: Published: Apr 10, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture program, described the extent to which forfeiture has been employed in narcotics cases, and discussed the problems limiting greater forfeiture use.

Billions of dollars are generated annually by organized crime. These illicit profits and the assets acquired with them were the target of legislation passed to combat organized crime through forfeiture of assets. However, assets obtained through forfeiture have been miniscule. The Government has not exercised the kind of leadership and management necessary to make asset forfeiture a widely used law enforcement technique. Justice has not given investigators or prosecutors the incentive or guidance to go after criminal assets. Emerging case law indicates that legislative changes are needed if investigators and prosecutors are to make meaningful attacks on the economic base of organized crime. Whether or not an improved asset forfeiture program will make a sizable dent in drug trafficking is uncertain. A successful forfeiture program could provide an additional dimension in the war on drugs by attacking the primary motive for such crimes, monetary gain. More forfeitures have not been realized because forfeiture statutes are ambiguous in some areas or incomplete and deficient in others, investigators and prosecutors are not given the guidance and incentive for pursuing forfeiture, and access to financial information may be limited. The Government lacks the most rudimentary information needed to manage the forfeiture effort. Justice is making efforts to remedy the matter by issuing guidance on the use of forfeiture statutes, analyzing in detail affected cases prosecuted since 1970, and preparing a manual on how to conduct financial investigations in drug cases.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the criminal forfeiture provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, 18 U.S.C. 1961 et seq., to: (1) make explicit provision for forfeiture of profits and proceeds that are (a) acquired, derived, used, or maintained in violation of RICO or (b) acquired or derived as a result of a RICO violation; (2) authorize forfeiture of substitute assets, to the extent that assets forfeitable under RICO (a) cannot be located, (b) have been transferred, sold to, or deposited with third parties, or (c) have been placed beyond the general territorial jurisdiction of the United States. This authorization would be limited to the value of the assets described in (a), (b), and (c) above; and (3) clarify that interests forfeitable under RICO include assets illicitly derived, maintained, or acquired that are held or owned in an individual capacity by defendants convicted of using a de facto association/enterprise to violate RICO.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should evaluate the workability of current forfeiture procedures and take the appropriate steps to effect any necessary revisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct Justice's Criminal Division to analyze on a continuing basis the extent to which forfeiture statutes are used and the reasons for their success or failure. When problems restricting forfeiture use are identified, the Criminal Division should propose solutions, whether or not they involve administrative or legislative action.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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