Prosecutorial Extortion: Alleged Drug Dealer Agrees to $300,000 Seizure in Face of Charges Threatened Against Entire Family
by David M. Reutter
When civil asset forfeiture laws were made applicable to criminal defendants, the purpose was to ensure criminals lost the illicit gains from their criminal activities after conviction. A case in Kentucky shows how prosecutors can use their unbridled charging discretion to force defendants to agree to the forfeiture without a conviction.
Patrick Card was charged in 2019 with multiple counts of drug trafficking after the St. Matthews Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office seized marijuana and pills from his home. The government also seized $300,000 and three Rolex watches from Card. They also froze a bank account with $123,000 that belonged to his parents although they were not charged with a crime.
The prosecutor quickly changed that by charging Card’s wife, father, and mother with drug trafficking and complicity to drug trafficking. The next day, Card was offered a way out: agree to the forfeiture of the seized assets and the charges would be dropped against his family. Card declined. The legal saga that ensued ended in October 2021 when the charges against Card and his family were dropped. The deal involved the unfreezing of the bank account and return of the watches, but the government kept $305,050 of the seized money.
As to why he gave in, Card said, “I was exhausted, and it was taking a toll on my ability to be mentally, physically, and emotionally here for my wife and cousin that lives with us.”
Civil asset forfeiture “very often doesn’t involve criminal charges,” said Dan Alban, an attorney at Institute for Justice (“IJ”), a public interest law firm. “The police just seize someone’s money, whether they’re traveling with it, or seize it from their bank account, and that basically puts the onus on the owner to try to get their property back.”
Carl Nelson, a former real estate transaction manager for Amazon found himself in that position. During the course of an investigation into whether he facilitated shady deals for millions in kickbacks, the FBI seized almost $1 million from Nelson. That forced him to sell his house, liquidate retirement, and move his four children into his wife’s sister’s apartment basement. Two years into the probe, the FBI has not brought charges.
“If you can’t afford to defend yourself, let alone feed yourself,” said Amy Sterner Nelson, “it becomes complicated.” The FBI recently agreed to return $525,000 to Nelson.
According to a recent IJ report, over the last two decades the government has seized at least $68.8 billion from the public.
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