Sheriff’s Message, Week of July 23rd
In 2015 we seized three pounds of methamphetamine from a home safe pursuant to a search warrant in connection to a major drug trafficking investigation. The house, located in Moundhouse, was seized under state asset forfeiture laws. The main suspect has been convicted of drug trafficking and is currently serving a long prison sentence. This week the defendants paid Lyon County $33,000 in a negotiated settlement to suspend its civil court forfeiture request.
Criminals convicted of certain crimes should not be allowed to keep profits from illegal activities. Drug dealers are the main culprits. Many make thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of dollars by illegally selling meth, opiates, and heroin to addicts, who are routinely stealing from law abiding citizens to feed their habit. Lawfully seizing illegally gained profits and then requesting court ordered forfeitures under due process of law helps deter criminal enterprises. Taking their drugs is one thing, but sadly there are more drugs to replace those seized. Taking their profits is what really hurts them.
There is a process of law that must be followed prior to forfeiting cash and property. Contrary to fake media and those pundits in the peanut gallery, it is a lengthy process. Illegally gained property or cash is first seized as evidence under a probable cause legal standard. If the District Attorney’s Office agrees the seized items meet criteria, they file a district court civil forfeiture petition within 120 days in which one of three outcomes can occur. The judge can disagree with the government’s position and order the property and cash returned; the judge can order the property and/or cash forfeited to the government; or the judge can allow some type of negotiated deal.
Illegal narcotic forfeitures are restricted to training and equipment costs connected to criminal narcotic investigations. Our narcotic forfeiture account is audited annually by the State Attorney General’s Office as we are mandated to report all seizures, court ordered forfeitures, and seizures returned to owner. We currently have about seven thousand dollars in that account. The last federal forfeiture we received was about 7-8 years ago for $20,000. It involved a business owner transporting and selling synthetic marijuana from his store in Lyon County. The last large asset forfeiture the LCSO did was approximately 20 years ago when we seized in excess of $200,000 of drug money found in a semi-truck. The LCSO placed $100,000 in its forfeiture fund and gave the excess, pursuant to state law to the Lyon County School District.
There is no such thing as finders keepers. All property seized without an owner or a criminal charge is unclaimed property. Pursuant to state law, that property and money must be transferred to the State of Nevada’s Treasury Office as unclaimed property. Property seized and prosecution denied by a prosecuting attorney’s office should be returned to the owner. There are cases that the property may be illegal to possess and thus cannot be returned. If law enforcement agencies are seizing property without probable cause as the legal standard, property owners have civil remedies they can take in federal courts. There are plenty of ambulance chasing lawyers who can help people that do not have the ability to hire a civil attorney because of potential big money lawsuits. This is why law enforcement agencies do not seize property without probable cause. There are some exceptions because of poorly trained officers, but as a general rule, it doesn’t happen very often because of liability costs.
Our fugitive was arrested by the Lovelock Police Department after a tip came into our dispatch center. There is a bail bond company breathing a sigh of relief right now, for if the fugitive did not return within 180 days, the $500,000 bond would have been forfeited to the county. However, the bail bond company would have taken the houses from those family members who guaranteed the bond. The lesson learned here is to really think about who you will help bail out of jail and who you will not.
Another year’s Night in the Country has ended without any significant incidents. While there are still occasional fights and other minor incidents, the new security company has put in place good practices aimed at slowing down the consumption of alcohol which has improved the overall event safety.
And finally, Deputy Harrison graduated the Cat III academy. Her mother, a retired Nevada Department of Correction officer was allowed to pin on her daughter’s badge during the graduation ceremony.
As always, keep the faith.