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When someone takes your property, you call the police. But who do you call when the police are the ones taking your property? Believe it or not, this happens every day under a process called “civil forfeiture.” People whose assets were seized by law enforcement often don’t know how to get them back, or they fear that they will be charged with a crime for even trying.
If your property or assets were seized by law enforcement, we may be able to help. While few attorneys are experienced at facing off with the government to reclaim property taken under civil forfeiture laws, at Morgan & Morgan we have an attorney who has extensive experience in this field.
If you are looking for help recovering assets taken by law enforcement, contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free, no-risk case evaluation.
What is Civil Forfeiture?
Civil forfeiture statutes give federal and state law enforcement agencies the right to seizure of property they believe was involved in, or represents proceeds of, a crime. However, very little evidence is required to take property. Even innocent property owners are not spared, as law enforcement can take their assets even though someone else used them to commit a crime, for example.
Until the 1980s, civil forfeiture was used infrequently by the government and often for very specific purposes. Since then — when Congress modified the forfeiture laws and allowed the government the right to keep the funds its agencies took — civil forfeiture has expanded exponentially. In just the last decade, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Treasury Department forfeited nearly $29 billion worth of assets, according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General.
While civil forfeiture has played a role in dismantling large criminal organizations, many innocent people have also lost their property in the process.
What Can the Government Seize?
Forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to take assets or property of any size or value if they believe the assets are associated with a crime. This includes cash, vehicles, bank accounts, jewelry, and even real estate.
Ultimately, because civil forfeiture targets only the asset, and not the people who may have owned or used it, any asset can be forfeited as long as law enforcement can prove that it was more likely than not connected to a crime regardless of the owner’s involvement. This is also true for people — known as “innocent owners” — whose property was taken from someone else who allegedly used it to commit a crime.
For example, in Philadelphia, authorities took the home of parents of a 22-year-old man who was arrested for selling $40 worth of heroin.
Because law enforcement believed that the son in Philadelphia had used the house to store and sell drugs, they were able to take and forfeit it under civil forfeiture laws, leaving the unsuspecting parents without their home.
How Can Morgan & Morgan Help Recover Your Property?
Typical civil proceedings call for the assistance of an experienced attorney, and civil forfeiture is no exception. However, some victims of civil forfeiture try to go at it alone, only to get bogged down by the time, effort, and costs required to successfully petition the government for the return of taken property.
If your property was taken because of an alleged connection to a crime, attorney AnneMarie Sgarlata can draw from her extensive background working with law enforcement agencies involved in the forfeiture of assets to help you get some or all of your assets back.
To learn more about how we may be able to help with assets seizure, contact us today for a free case evaluation.
More About Experienced Civil Forfeiture Attorney AnneMarie Sgarlata
Ms. Sgarlata began her legal career in the courtroom as an Assistant Attorney General, trying cases throughout the state of Oregon on behalf of child victims of abuse and neglect. She then served for over eight years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the DOJ, specializing in Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering cases, and recovering millions of dollars in assets that were taken for crime victims and lien-holders.
As a federal prosecutor, Sgarlata also served as a criminal prosecutor on cases involving bank robbery, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud, firearms, immigration, digital currency, intellectual property rights, child exploitation, sex trafficking, and internet crimes. During her time at the DOJ, she served on the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering Advisory Committee.
Ms. Sgarlata has conducted Continuing Legal Education seminars and trainings on asset forfeiture, money laundering, and the “Dark Web” for federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors as well as certified fraud examiners, accountants, and Bank Secrecy Act compliance officers.
She has tried bench and jury cases to verdict in federal, state, and administrative courts, and has successfully defended her cases on appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Her asset forfeiture cases have been featured on 20/20, American Greed, MSNBC and have been covered by national and international press.