An FBI paralegal specialist pled guilty on March 7 to embezzling $159,821.90 from the FBI by exploiting her access to the San Diego division’s Asset Forfeiture Unit.
According to the Department of Justice’s official statement, the employee, Lynn M. Morris, “admitted that to convert government funds to her own use, she used her knowledge and position within the FBI to withdraw cash from the AFU’s account and deposited portions of the stolen proceeds into her personal checking account.” The theft occurred between July 2014 and November 2016.
Morris will be sentenced June 4. This case was investigated by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General.
What is civil asset forfeiture?
Civil asset forfeiture is one of the few policies that both the conservative Heritage Foundation and the liberal ACLU agree should be abolished. It allows law enforcement to seize property that they suspect to be involved in a crime, even if the owner is not charged with anything. It can be difficult for the owner of the property to get it returned, even if they choose to fight a costly legal battle.
The Heritage Foundation listed just some of many examples of civil asset forfeiture abuse:
[B]etween 2006 and 2008, law enforcement agents in Tenaha, Texas, engaged in a systematic practice of seizing cash and property from innocent drivers with absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing. In Philadelphia, police seized the home of two sisters whose brother, who did not live there, showed up while trying to evade the cops. In Detroit, cops seized over a hundred cars owned by patrons of an art institute event — because the institute had failed to get a liquor license.
The ACLU accused some police departments of using “forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting.”
Civil asset forfeiture is also the method that President Donald Trump suggested could be used to confiscate guns from suspected criminals, without waiting for a conviction or even having to charge them with a crime. These gun owners would then have to appear in court to prove their own innocence before recovering their firearms.