HomeBudget & Tax NewsGovernment Property Seizure Stymies Texas Small-Business Owner

Government Property Seizure Stymies Texas Small-Business Owner

A vehicle owned by a small car rental company located in Texas was seized under federal civil asset forfeiture law because a renter allegedly used the car to transport drugs without the owner’s knowledge or permission, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reports. The individual who rented the car was pulled over for speeding in Mississippi, where officers found a wide range of illegal drugs along with three loaded guns, including an AR-15 short barrel.

The owner of the car rental company, Manni Munir, had no idea the renter was transporting drugs, the Clarion Ledger reports. Munir had completed a background check and collected driver information before completing the rental transaction, and nothing in the background check caused concerns. The car renter, Rohith Mathew, was charged in federal court with drug and gun offenses. Mathew is a supply chain management executive, the Clarion Ledger reports.

Munir, the car owner, has not been charged with any crime, let alone convicted, but the government has seized the car under a federal law that allows property to be taken without a trial or even an accusation that the owner has committed a crime. Mississippi’s law on forfeiture is more restrictive than the federal law, but the government is applying the federal rule because one of the deputies on the case works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Munir has repeatedly asked the DEA to return the car but has received no response.

The confiscation of the vehicle has serious consequences for the small business owner, who has about two-dozen cars he rents to people visiting Houston for health care treatments. While a larger operation may not be impacted by the loss of one vehicle, it is a relatively significant proportion of  Munir’s business. Munir is contesting the seizure, but he says an attorney told him it might cost him more than $5,000 to fight it out in court.

“If I was Hertz, if I was Avis, they wouldn’t try to seize the car,” Munir told the Clarion Ledger. “This is a huge hit.”

Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) reintroduced in Congress the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, which would make broad changes to federal civil forfeiture laws to provide protection against these asset takings.

“Under nonjudicial or administrative civil forfeiture, not only can the federal government confiscate property without filing criminal charges, owners can permanently lose their property without a judge ever hearing their case,” writes Nick Sibilla in Forbes. The federal agencies that seize the property retain part of the forfeiture haul, with a share going to the local law enforcement agencies that seize the property, all but eliminating any motivation to return property to the rightful owner.

Administrative seizure is currently the standard operating procedure, and unless a property owner is willing to engage in a potentially expensive legal battle—which might cost much more than the property is worth—he or she is likely to lose the property permanently.

The FAIR Act would end the “equitable sharing” program, which currently encourages state and local law enforcement agencies to seize property and turn into over to the federal government and split the proceeds. In addition, Paul’s bill would require proceeds of asset forfeitures be sent to the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury instead of the individual agencies, which would “prevent agencies from padding their budgets with what they seize” and “eliminate the perverse incentives that motivate civil forfeiture,” Sibilla writes.

A report produced by the Institute for Justice (IJ) in 2015 documents the explosive growth of government forfeitures. The Department of Justice and the Treasury Department together took in nearly $29 billion through asset forfeiture in the years 2001 to 2014, an increase of 1,000 percent, the report states.

The vast majority of asset forfeitures are not officially connected to any criminal activity. Of all the forfeitures handled by the U.S. Department of Justice between 1997 and 2013, 87 percent were civil, not criminal forfeitures, the IJ report states. While criminal forfeitures require a criminal conviction, civil forfeitures do not.

“No one should lose property without being convicted of a crime, and law enforcement agencies should not profit from taking people’s property,” the report states.


Eileen Griffin
Eileen Griffin
Eileen Griffin, MBA, Ph.D., is a contributing editor at Heartland Daily News and writes on a wide range of topics, from crime and criminal justice to education and religious freedom. Griffin worked for more than 20 years in leadership roles in the financial industry and is the author of books on business and politics.


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