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The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports on the indictment of Joe Frank Garza, the District Attorney for Jim Wells County in South Texas:

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has investigated Garza since May 2009 after an audit commissioned by Jim Wells County commissioners showed Garza spent more than $4.2 million of the forfeiture fund from 2000 through 2007 on trips to casinos and extra pay for his staff, among other things.

The Austin Chronicle has more:

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office announced yesterday that a South Texas grand jury has indicted former Jim Wells Co. District Attorney Joe Frank Garza for misapplication of fiduciary duty, for using asset forfeiture funds for his own personal gain.

Needless to say, asset forfeiture is big business for police and prosecutors who benefit wildly from the seizures. For example, according to the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, its troopers alone seized $4.6 million in assets in both 2008 and 2009. Multiply that by the hundreds of police agencies across the state and you get a sense of just how big this business is. Perhaps then it is not surprising that these seizures aren’t always above board: Take the case of motorists unfortunate enough to be passing through Tenaha, who hadn’t broken any laws but were nonetheless extorted by the local cops.

Here is a copy of the indictment.

I should also note that in 2008/2009, about $54 million in forfeiture proceeds were funneled through the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing program. This program allows Texas law enforcement to deposit seized property with the Department of Justice and receive up to 80% of the value of the property in cash or equipment. Between the Equitable Sharing program and the ability of Texas law enforcement to circumvent the law and keep money for themselves, we are talking about much more than just the $54 million that was laundered through Equitable Sharing or the $4.2 million that Garza allegedly squandered for himself. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate that has been taken from people without a trial or conviction over the last decade.

Keep in mind that Texas law (Crim. Proc. Title 1, Art. 59.06 (a)) directs proceeds from forfeiture to the Texas general revenue fund. Suffice it to say that none of this money has made it there, and that law enforcement in Texas enjoys the privileged state of being able to fund themselves, free of legislative or civilian oversight. I read this as indicative of basic and widespread problems with governance throughout the state of Texas that have severe implications for democracy and constitutional rights.

H/T: Mike Hagan

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