Tim Evans and Heather Gillers have a good investigative piece on Indiana’s civil forfeiture laws in the Indianapolis Star:
In Indiana, when police seize cash, luxury cars and other assets from criminal suspects, any proceeds that exceed law enforcements costs are supposed to go to the state’s schools.
But in 87 of Indiana’s 92 counties — including Marion and its surrounding counties — that is not happening, an Indianapolis Star investigation found.
Critics say a vague section of Indiana law dealing with how law enforcement costs are calculated allows police and prosecutors to keep virtually all the money that is forfeited — a windfall some contend comes at the expense of Hoosier schoolchildren.
Experts conservatively estimate that millions of dollars in cash, cars, jewelry, homes and other assets are seized every year in Indiana. But only a fraction of that winds up in the Common School Fund, which provides low-interest loans to schools for technology and construction projects.
The grand total put into the school fund since Jan. 1, 2008: $99,490, according to records provided by the state treasurer’s office. Only five counties submitted any money during that time.
It is not known how many of the millions of dollars in assets seized every year should be directed to the school fund. But an attorney who has worked on forfeiture issues said schools have likely missed out on more than $1 million since 2008.
The problem is greater than the Indianapolis Star reports. Their source only is able to calculate the dollar amount of forfeitures that were processed through state circuit court, but this does not capture the money that is “laundered” through the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing program, which is the program responsible for receiving seized property and sending a percentage kickback (usually 80%) back to the state and local law enforcement agency.
Moreover, without a thorough audit of police and prosecutor agencies it is unlikely that we’ll be able to accurately put a number to the total forfeitures that happen in Indiana; many of these are not reported, and prosecutors have made use of techniques like “confidential settlement agreements” to process a lot of forfeiture money as if it were not forfeiture money. This allows them to hide receipts and build their own slush funds. We’ve blogged previously about an Indiana prosecutor, Mark McKinney, who was able to do precisely that.
In 2009, $4.8 million was disbursed back to Indiana Counties from the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing program. In 2008, that figure was $4.3 million. This implies that roughly $11.4 million dollars worth of seizures were transferred to the DOJ during 2008-2009, all money that is legally directed to Indiana’s Common School Fund.
Over the last ten years (2000-2009) disbursements from Equitable Sharing to Indiana law enforcement were $26 million, indicating gross receipts of roughly $32.5 million. Indiana school districts should be very, very concerned that so much money meant for their budgets has simply vanished, and it is my thought that they should consider filing a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice over this program, which is intended to divert funding away from Indiana’s schools to Indiana’s law enforcement.