Tuesday, July 17, 2018

NorCo Has Record Year in Cash Seizure From Drug Dealers

DA  John Morganelli
The last 12 months have been very unprofitable for at least some Northampton County drug dealers. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, DA John Morganelli office has seized $280,907 in US currency. It's the most money his office has taken out of the hands of local drug lords within the past five years. In addition, his office has sold 10 vehicles.

Morganelli is acting under the authority of state law, which allows him to commence civil asset forfeiture actions against the property used in the commission of crime, not the person charged. This has evolved from the common law principle of deodand, under which instruments used to commit crime, as well as the profits, were declared forfeit.

Forfeitures are controversial

Prosecutors have long defended civil forfeiture as one of the tools in their arsenal to deter organized crime. But in Philadelphia, the Institute of Justice filed suit in 2014 when people, many of them with low incomes, were losing homes, bank accounts and cars. A mother whose son dealt from her home could see her home taken away, and often had little or no notice. In 2015, Philadelphia agreed to stop taking homes without providing better notice. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there must be strong evidence showing a home or car was used in a crime and that the owner consented. Governor Tom Wolf also signed a new law that allows parities to retain seized property during the pendency of criminal cases if they can show a hardship.

In Northampton County, DA John Morganelli said that he only brings civil forfeiture actions if there has been a conviction. But the a United States Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case filed by a convicted Indiana heroin dealer whose $40,000 Land Rover was seized by police after he sold a few hundred dollars worth of heroin. This has been challenged as an "excessive fine" in violation of the Eighth Amendment, especially since the vehicle was purchased with life insurance proceeds, not drug money.

Community Outreach Program

In a July 16 news conference, Morganelli announced plans to use forfeiture proceeds to fund a Community Outreach Program.

First, he wants to meet with the legislative body of every municipality to determine how his office can better serve each community. he has already met Bangor Borough Council and is scheduled to visit Hellertown Borough Council in August. He pointed out that different communities have different needs.

Second, he will be sending a newsletter to county residents to outline the benefits of community block watch groups and explain how to get one started. using drug forfeiture proceeds, he is willing to provide start-up costs. This newsletter will also remind citizens of
National Night Out, scheduled this year for Tuesday, August 7, 2018.

Other Uses of Seized Drug Money

In addition to community outreach programs, forfeitures fund the salary of an assistant District Attorney, training, drug buys, equipment purchases. Since starting the drug forfeiture program, Morganelli's office has seized over $3 million. He credited Assistant District Attorney Julianne Danchak and County Detective Andre Stevens for their work in making the past 12 months a banner year for Northampton County.

Drug Forfeitures over Past Five Years

2013 -  $79,831
2014 - $120,544
2015 - $107,802
2016 - $140,290
2017 - $132,000
2018 - $280907

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Taking property of people over this is wrong. You go to jail. This has become a cottage industry and it should not happen.

Anonymous said...

Civil forfeiture is absolutely unconstitutional. Besides being an excessive fine, it is a violation of due process (the fact that Morganelli says he waits until conviction, implies that he doesn't need to) and the just compensation clause. It is just a way for law enforcement to line their pockets without charging as many taxes, incentivizing overpolicing of the disproportionately poor and minority people that are targeted for drug busts so that wealthier people don't have to pay as much for police.

Anonymous said...

Ask yourself if drugs abuse and associated crimes are getting better or worse as a result of the war. Yeah.

Innocent Bystander said...

The dealers are not nice people .They don’t care about somebody’s kid waking up dead. Historically,the bad guys don’t file taxes. Then they want to tell the judges at the preliminary they’re a citizen here . The cops should include “what ever evidence if residentcy exist” at bail hearings.if 27 years old and no file exist where he says they live , but just flopped here . Bail should go up. Two things happen when you kick ass and take names . The scum bag landlord then should get a file inspection about his non- compliance and all the appropriate fines and costs come out of that property . Due process is paramount to hold the fibers of the prosecution proceedings to gather .

Anonymous said...

The fact that law enforcement can benefit by the assets it confiscates is alarming. Many assets have been taken without any connection to a crime. The assets are taken, then the defendant has to prove it is not part of a drug business. It has been a reported that if persons have large amounts of cash in their possession it can be confiscated. This all oversteps the 4 th. amendment. If the government can increase its coffers and offer a token amount for the community, the 4th amendment is violated. This is a bad policy.

Anonymous said...

Another one of the many reasons I didn't vote for Morgonelli.

Anonymous said...

So how are these seized vehicles disposed of? I don't see them listed in the auctions of used /surplus county equipment. Are they handled the same way as gift cards were in Human Resources, going quietly to special employees? Why isn't this seized property and cash used to make whole the victims of said criminals?

Anonymous said...

Greed has no moral repercussion.

Anonymous said...

Why don't they sell the confiscated drugs to make even more money, more money, mo money? Surely responsible adults would welcome the discounted merchandise.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"the fact that Morganelli says he waits until conviction, implies that he doesn't need to"

That is correct. A civil forfeiture can be brought separately and independently.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"So how are these seized vehicles disposed of? I don't see them listed in the auctions of used /surplus county equipment. Are they handled the same way as gift cards were in Human Resources, going quietly to special employees? Why isn't this seized property and cash used to make whole the victims of said criminals?"

That is completely absurd. Some of the vehicles are used as undercover or unmarked vehicles. The rest are sold at public auction. None of this goes to "special employees." The notion of giving this money to crime victims is a good one, but it must be spent as dictated by the law. It can be spent for education and crime fighting. I would support a move to amend the law to use funds to make restitution.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Civil forfeiture is absolutely unconstitutional. Besides being an excessive fine, it is a violation of due process (the fact that Morganelli says he waits until conviction, implies that he doesn't need to) and the just compensation clause. It is just a way for law enforcement to line their pockets without charging as many taxes, incentivizing overpolicing of the disproportionately poor and minority people that are targeted for drug busts so that wealthier people don't have to pay as much for police."

Actually, the courts have generally upheld civil asset forfeiture. In addition to the Pa. Supreme Court's concerns about how it was being used in Philly, other state courts have negated seizures best on due process and self-incrimination. As I indicated, the US Supreme Court will hear an "excessive fine" argument from Indiana.

Morganelli has been careful in his use of forfeiture.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" Many assets have been taken without any connection to a crime. The assets are taken, then the defendant has to prove it is not part of a drug business"

This is not nor has it ever been the law, at least not in Pa. Although civil asset forfeiture has been open to abuse, there always had to be proof that the asset seized was used in conjunction with the crime or is a profit. And the burden of proof has always been on the Commonwealth.

In reforms enacted last year, the burden of proof has been increased to "clear and convincing evidence." Parties can keep seized property during the pendency of a criminal case if there is a hardship. They can also seek stays of forfeiture proceedings until they are convicted.

But some say the reforms do not go far enough. There are those who believe civil asset forfeiture should wait until there has been a conviction.

Anonymous said...

Record forfeitures and the drug problem is worse than ever. I'm from the government and I'm here to help! If we fought WWII with the same effectiveness of the War on Drugs, we'd be sharing ideas in German or Japanese. An entire law enforcement career has left the county worse than at any time in history. It does provide steady employment for hundreds of county workers. Their job security comes at the expense of increasing societal damage resulting from prohibition they've failed to enforce. Keep up the great work! Raises for everyone!

Anonymous said...

When a business hires an illegal alien it has broke the law and profited by breaking the law, why is the company not confiscated and sold in the same way?

When business breaks environmental laws and profit by endangering everyone's health they are not confiscated and sold. Why?

Why is this done only when it is a street drug crime? Drugs companies that over produce opiates beyond legitimate prescription amounts are not seized and sold despite clear proof they are profiting by it.

Why not punch-up at the bigtime crime as well as street corner crime?

Consistency in the application of laws it what gives them credibility.

Anonymous said...

Because the goal of the war on drugs is not to eliminate drugs, but to perpetuate their illicit use in order to perpetuate a very large and expensive system to deal with it. As our drug problem worsens, we double down on the same approach that has brought us to this point.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" Drugs companies that over produce opiates beyond legitimate prescription amounts are not seized and sold despite clear proof they are profiting by it."

Actually, drug companies are defendants in a plethora of lawsuits filed by various governments, including Norco.

Anonymous said...

Polish this turd all you want but this is plain wrong. Cops using "Ferraris" as undercover cars is bullshot. This is nothing but a crap way to grab easy money. The way this is stretched to include users is just a crime in and of itself. Sorry but even people who want to see dealers locked up for a long time find this over reach by ambitious prosecutors gaining favor with their client cops and overreach. the practice should wend but it won't. It all about the money.

Anonymous said...

The government should not have the power to confiscate private property. ESPECIALLY if they stand to gain money from doing so.

Bernie O'Hare said...

What do you think condemnation is? Government has the right to seize your property. So do utilities. It might be needed for a public project. Sometimes, property is seized from one private owner to benefit another private owner, as in Kelo v. New London. You are entitled to just compensation that is rarely just.

I do support eminent domain when necessary, like to build a school. I support eminent domain for utilities. But not for economic development. I also share many of the concerns raised here regarding forfeiture. I generally support forfeiture (1) if there has been a conviction; (2) the asset was used to facilitate the crime or is a profit; and (3) the value of the asset is proportional to the crime. If seizure of an asset presents an undue hardship on the persons impacted, I would oppose seizure. I would also insist on notice and plenty of opportunity to be heard.

Randy Salvage said...

Morganelli's jack booted thugs seized Hirko's life and the tax payers got soaked.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you said that civil asset forfeiture has been upheld in state courts, but when I said it is unconstitutional, I was referring to the US constitution, and even if it hadn't been upheld, that doesn't mean the courts got it right (the Plessy, Korematsu, and Cit. United decisions are all good examples of times the courts obviously messed up).

Also, the third condition you list is always violated. Fines and prison sentences are supposed to be given in proportion to the crime committed. Therefore if the fine or prison sentence is not reduced by an equivalent value to that of the asset seized, then the cumulative value of the sentence and the seizure will always exceed a proportional punishment.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Civil asset forfeiture has been upheld in the US S Ct as well, although as I said, the court is going to take a new look. The argument that this is not an excessive fine is that this is an action against the thing, not the person. It's a legal fiction, and my guess is it is going to be declared unconstitutional.

I believe Pa.'s most recent law would probably pass constitutional muster, but aa person should be allowed to keep an asset if it is not something obtained with drug proceeds and if giving it up would create a hardship.

Anonymous said...

"In Northampton County, DA John Morganelli said that he only brings civil forfeiture actions if there has been a conviction."
that is a positive step and he deserves credit for adopting such a policy.
Of course since discretion is part of this scenario the question of why certain people get their property taken/
Case 1 Sean driving a 18 yr old Hyundai gets nailed buying a bag of weed.
Case 2 Buffy driving Dad's range rover gets busted for buying a bag of weed.
Buffy who's dad wears Armani suits and has deep pockets gets a possession charge.
Sean gets hammered as a dealer and loses his car and house.
Sean does not have the money to hire a lawyer and fight the forfeiture so he is the low hanging fruit that gets plucked.
his money and car are seized until the case is settled so even if he makes bail he can lose his job because he has no car or his apartment cause he needed that money for rent.
either way Sean is screwed but it looks good for the politicians who brag about hurting drug dealers when most of the time some small time user gets sledge hammered for a bag of weed.
The biggest problem is the seized cash funds the people who are running the forfeiture program.
Do they want to ask for higher taxes to pay for their work or do they pick the low hanging fruit and keep the taxpayer happy?
What looks better in the papers-20 drug dealers arrested or 20 people charged with possession?
Any drug dealer worth his salt never owns anything that can be taken.
He leases and rents everything.Drugs and money are never in the same place at the same time.
If a low level runner gets caught so he loses a couple of thousand-cost of doing business.
One thing i noticed was all the money that has been confiscated no mention was made of any of that money going to fund say drug treatment for the users.
perhaps some is.
I suspect it is not as politically sexy as putting up crime watch signs and buying new cop cars.
Also i suspect that if a certain section of town has the crime and the proceeds from forfeiture are spread county wide then the moneys taken are not being used in the ares where the crime is being committed.
it would make sense to apply more police presence in crime areas then funding outside of that area

Anonymous said...

4:42PM
I'm pretty sure JM would not waste tax payers money and the jury's time over a bag of weed. That would be foolish.

This is for those who are becoming rich off the selling of prohibited drugs.

Do you realize how much time and cost it would be to collect $200,000 from cases like a bag of weed and crappy Hyundai? What would be collected would be less than the cost of the court.

This is most likely from a few king-pin cases where it's fiscally prudent as well as an effective deterrent.

Anonymous said...

6.50
The cops just seize the items.no court action occurs until sean tries to get his crappy car back.
the po-po realize he has no real assets to fight against them so they grab his stuff and cash.
sean realizes he does not have anything to fight with so he just gets screwed.
try
https://www.myajc.com/news/local/lax-forfeiture-law-loaded-with-potential-for-abuse/drqBmnPXAsB7Sk9JxRM28H/

"But records show that state seizures of luxury cars or suitcases full of cash are rare. Agencies routinely confiscated cash amounts less than $500, cars worth less than $5,000, cell phones and the occasional vacuum cleaner."
"Shukree Simmons was driving north from Macon on Interstate 75 after making $3,700 on the sale of his restored 1985 Chevrolet Silverado. He hoped to pay rent on the East Point shop where he lived and ran an auto broker.

Deputies stopped him saying he drove recklessly. They ran his license, searched his car, put him in cuffs and brought in a police dog, but they found no drugs and never arrested or ticketed him.

“They just left me, took my money, and said, ‘have a nice day,’ ” Simmons said.

His money gone, Simmons was evicted and lived in his car.

The deputy’s report said Simmons met the truck’s buyer at a restaurant that was being investigated for drug activity.

ACLU attorneys convinced the department to eventually return the money, but Simmons received no compensation for his struggles.

Owners rarely do, experts said. A lawsuit typically cannot proceed once the property is returned, and suits that accuse police of abuse rarely win.

Anonymous said...

another example
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/us/police-use-department-wish-list-when-deciding-which-assets-to-seize.html

" In Mercer County, N.J., a prosecutor preaches the “gospel” that forfeiture is not just for drug arrests — cars can be seized in shoplifting and statutory rape cases as well."
"In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch.'
"Officials offered advice on dealing with skeptical judges, mocked Hispanics whose cars were seized, and made comments that, the Institute for Justice said, gave weight to the argument that civil forfeiture encourages decisions based on the value of the assets to be seized rather than public safety."
"But in the video, Mr. McMurtry made it clear that forfeitures were highly contingent on the needs of law enforcement. In New Jersey, the police and prosecutors are allowed to use cars, cash and other seized goods; the rest must be sold at auction. Cellphones and jewelry, Mr. McMurtry said, are not worth the bother. Flat screen televisions, however, “are very popular with the police departments,” he said.
Those examples are probably not happening under JM.
The point is that the forfeiture program can be abused and has occurred.

Anonymous said...

7:45pm
Nice hit! The pitch was underhanded and could not be slower, but you picked up the points.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The cops just seize the items.no court action occurs until sean tries to get his crappy car back"

This is just untrue. There must be an action if police want to seize what it confiscated.

Anonymous said...

10.41
Sean gets busted they impound his car and tow it away.
The cops get to hold the car.
If the po-po choose the forfeiture route Sean does not get his car back even if he makes bail.
Even if the cops decide to release the car Sean gets financial sodomy over towing and storage charges.another racket the police have in their pocket.
so Sean is faced with a 700 dollar charge to get his 900 dollar car.
not mentioning he does not have that kind of cash or a bank account to tap.
So Sean is screwed he lets the car go.
A little later the police get to buy a new coffee maker(from the auction proceeds) and strut around bragging about hurting the drug dealers big time.
Any money the cops take is not returned either.
It is evidence.
Basically the civil forfeiture is another way to f--k the poor and powerless.
your politician gets to say the war on drugs is a battle and look what we have done.
We get to pay for ourselves (see no tax hikes)and look at that Bradley fighting vehicle we bought for the SWAT team.
The money we grab will be spent in towns far away from where the drug dealing is occurring after all why have more of a police presence where the crime happens?
And using the forfeiture to pay for drug treatment?
until i see the percentage applied to those drug programs i question the validity of this "tool" in the war on drugs.