Marijuana trade keeps Mendocino County a leader in asset forfeiture

By Terrapinzflyer · Nov 25, 2009 · Updated Nov 25, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Marijuana trade keeps Mendocino County a leader in asset forfeiture

    In 2008, Mendocino County was once again in the top ranks for money seized through California asset forfeiture procedures. At $1,479,000, Mendocino County ranked third for value of assets settled, trailing only the more populous and perennial top forfeiture counties of Los Angeles at $8,176,000 and San Bernardino at $3,597,000. Nearby Humboldt County at $621,000 ranked 10th, while Lake County with only $2,000 ranked 48th among California counties.

    The 2008 total cleared through the Mendocino County settlement process was less than the $1,746,000 settled here in 2007.

    Asset seizures processed in state court require a higher level of proof than federal law requires. The state requires seized monies or property suspected to be the product of a criminal enterprise to be placed into a special holding account managed by the district attorney. These assets cannot be settled and distributed until the underlying case is settled.

    For seized liquid assets up to $25,000 to be distributed, the asset owner must be convicted of a limited list of primarily drug related crimes. When assets greater than $25,000 are seized, the state requires proof in court "by clear and convincing evidence."

    When law enforcement fails to meet the level of proof required, the assets must be returned.

    In 2008, Mendocino County received $734,889 from cases initiated in 2007; $508,879 from cases beginning in 2008; and $231,973 from 2006 cases. The other cases settled in 2008 started in 2002 and yielded $3,699.

    Mendocino County law enforcement agencies in 2008 seized a record $2,065,000 in assets topping the earlier high in 2006 of $1,902,000. Most of these cases are still winding their way through the court process.

    In Mendocino County and across the state about 23 percent of the assets seized are returned when the related charges are either dropped or not proved.

    The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office seized the lions' share of assets settled in 2008 with sole responsibility more than half the total with $742,000 and County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team with $41,000. The Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force assisted with another $60,000 in seizures.

    The MMCTF had the second largest individual total with $451,000 in solo seizures and assisted several other agencies with their cases.

    The California Highway Patrol accounted for $32,000 in solo seizures and another $62,000 in joint operations with the MMCTF.

    Willits police had $22,000 in solo seizures and no joint operations.

    The Ukiah Police Department had $12,000 in solo seizures and $74,000 with MMCTF. Fort Bragg Police Department had no solo or joint seizures.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part story.
    NEXT: Where the monies go.

    By Linda Williams/TWN Staff Writer
    Posted: 11/25/2009 07:17:44 AM PST

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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Seizure of marijuana money helps state and local government

    EDITOR"S NOTE: This is Part 2 of a two-part asset forfeiture story.

    Assets seized through the California forfeiture program are disbursed using a complex formula created by the Legislature, which sends 25 percent of the money to state coffers and retains 75 percent for use within the county.

    In 2008, Mendocino County disbursed $1,479,440 in asset forfeitures, $355,065 to the state general fund and another $14,794 to the California District Attorney's Association to provide statewide training in asset forfeiture procedures.

    The remaining $1,109,580 was disbursed in 2008 to law enforcement agencies within the county.

    Seized funds must not "supplant" existing funding and must be used either to support law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts or go to crime or drug-use prevention programs. Most county agencies have interpreted the "supplant" wording to mean it cannot directly fund any item in the current budget. There is no requirement the money be spent in the year received.

    The Mendocino County District Attorney's Office retained $420,428 or about 38 percent of the 2008 disbursements. Part of the disbursement funds an asset forfeiture officer to administer the county program; the rest is kept in an asset seizure account managed directly by District Attorney Meredith Lintott.

    The Legislature intended for 15 percent of all forfeited assets to be used only for prevention programs to combat drug abuse or divert gang activity. In 2008, the Mendocino

    County Law Enforcement Administrators Association Fund received $144,245 for this purpose, which was split equally between the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg police departments.

    In Willits, the funds have been used to pay for school counselors and anti-gang programs as well as sober grad, Willits Kids Club, Mendocino Youth Project, Nuestra Alianza de Willits, Mendocino County Drug Court, and similar programs in the community.

    The law enforcement agency or agencies initiating the seizure, receive one-sixth of the final funds disbursed. The remaining one-sixth is split equally between the MCSO and Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg police departments.

    The departments have broad discretion on spending these funds as long as they are used to support law enforcement and do not "supplant" budgeted expenditures.

    The MCSO received $204,153 in 2008 disbursements and County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team received $12,353.

    The Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force received $89,974 in disbursements.

    The Willits Police Department received $75,071 in 2008; the Ukiah Police Department received $82,036; and the Fort Bragg Police Department receives $65,547.

    The Ukiah and Garberville posts of the California Highway Patrol received $15,675.

    By Linda Williams/TWN Staff Writer
    Posted: 11/30/2009 10:26:15 AM PST
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