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Charlotte Is Ground Zero for New FBI Asset Forfeiture Tip Line Program

by Casey J. Bastian

The FBI has identified Charlotte, North Carolina, as a drug trafficking hub because it has “multiple interstates running directly through” it. The FBI claims that this makes the Queen City an “appealing” route to traffickers delivering product and transferring cash “up and down the East Coast.” In early 2022, the FBI began using the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program to financially incentivize citizens to call in with information about drugs or cash. Up to 25% of the seized cash may be shared with the tipster.

The problem with civil asset forfeiture is that is requires almost zero proof of wrongdoing. There does not need to be an arrest, let alone a conviction, to have your property stolen by the federal government and often divvied up and shared with state counterparts. Then it becomes your fight to demonstrate “innocent ownership” or that it is “honest” money — usually, at great time and expense, often far exceeding the value of the property seized. In America, your property can be taken based on a nebulous accusation made by anyone, like a scorned ex or disgruntled neighbor.

There are so many documented issues with civil asset forfeiture that it is surprising the FBI found a way to make it potentially more abusive. Time and again, law enforcement agencies are able to pad their budgets by taking cash and property from people in this country. It isn’t illegal to carry large amounts of cash within the continental U.S. Yet today, in our over-policed state, it is called “suspicious.” Too many people find themselves in a process that is confusing, frustrating, and expensive. Often, they just give up, and law enforcement agencies have realized this. Which is why the average amount seized is less than a thousand dollars. Who is going to spend hours in court and thousands in attorney fees to get back a few hundred dollars?

The FBI hopes to expand this program to the entire state if successful. It is probably not a good idea to flood the tip line with bad tips; lying to the FBI is a serious crime. And even if you give good information, what happens when they ask, “How do you know that information?” It is a system in which nearly everyone can become a suspect. FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert R. Wells said, “If we keep even one shipment of drugs off the streets, I will consider this campaign a success.” Really, if we can keep one abusive civil asset forfeiture program off the streets, we would all call that a success. 


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