Yesterday, Missouri State State Auditor Tom Schweich did his statutory duty by releasing his annual Criminal Activity Forfeiture Act report for 2010. Unfortunately, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials across the state fell down on their duties by failing to submit CAFA-required reports to the auditor.
While the data found in this report are interesting, what’s more telling is what’s not there. Prosecutors in nine Missouri counties failed to submit reports detailing the forfeitures affected under Missouri’s state forfeiture law, CAFA. Shockingly, not a single law enforcement agency submitted an independently audited report of money received by participating in federal forfeiture programs, as is also required by the law. For years, law enforcement has used a nifty accounting trick to move forfeitures off the state-level books and instead split the money with federal agencies, who are not subject to provisions granting forfeited property to funds benefiting Missouri schools.
The Auditor’s press release sums up the upshot perfectly, “Although the exact value of [the property seized in 2010 in Missouri] is not known, it is estimated to be in the tens of millions, yet less than $26,000 went to Missouri public schools in 2010.” More than 10 years after Missouri undertook what was thought to be landmark forfeiture reform, attempting to curb abuse and direct those forfeitures that are necessary to a noble cause, law enforcement authorities on both the state and federal level continue to circumvent the law to the detriment of Missouri’s students.
Americans for Forfeiture Reform was founded to combat the pervasive and unfair use of civil asset forfeiture to deprive U.S. citizens of their rights and property. Since May of last year, AFR Policy Analyst Eapen Thampy has been working with the Auditor’s office to highlight the vast discrepancy between the amount of property seized by law enforcement in Missouri and the amount that actually ultimately ends up benefiting Missouri schools. Through sunshine requests of public records, Eapen and others at AFR have been able to document in stark terms the extent of this problem. Yesterday’s report from the Auditor validates his hard work and encourages us all as we continue to work to end the abuse of civil asset forfeiture in the United States.
The Auditor’s press release and full report can be found here.
Update: More coverage from St. Louis Riverfront Times Managing Editor Sarah Fenske, here.