Report No. 2011-08
Compilation of 2010 Criminal Activity Forfeiture Act Seizures
Disposition of Seized Property
Missouri’s Criminal Activity Forfeiture Act (CAFA) requires prosecuting attorneys and the Attorney General to submit an annual report to the State Auditor’s office summarizing the disposition of all property, including cash, seized pursuant to state law. The CAFA also requires all law enforcement agencies participating in the federal forfeiture system to acquire an independent audit of the federal seizures and proceeds received and to provide a copy of such audit to the State Auditor's office.
These requirements are not being met. The State Auditor’s office did not receive any of the specific independent audit reports from law enforcement agencies required by Section 513.653, RSMo, and prosecuting attorneys from the following counties failed to submit the report required by Section 513.607, RSMo: Benton, Carter, Gentry, Montgomery, Perry, Saline, Washington, Wayne, and Webster.
Without the required reports, it is impossible to accurately value the property seized within Missouri's borders and determine what percentage of that property is being turned over to federal agencies rather than going to the benefit of Missouri schools. It is estimated, however, that tens of millions of dollars were seized within the confines of Missouri's borders in 2010, but less than $26,000 went to Missouri public schools. Another $300,000 was returned to the owner and almost $1 million remained pending at this writing.
The state of Missouri and the federal government have very different procedures for the seizure and forfeiture of property associated with criminal activity.
Under current Missouri law, property seized in connection with a crime is held until the criminal process is complete. If no criminal conviction is obtained, the property must be returned to the owner. If a criminal conviction is obtained, all proceeds from the forfeited property must go to the benefit of Missouri's public school building revolving fund.
Under the federal forfeiture system, no criminal conviction is required. Property seized in connection with a crime is subject to a civil forfeiture proceeding and can be forfeited upon a much lower showing than in a criminal proceeding. Missouri's public schools do not receive any proceeds from forfeited property in the federal system. Instead, these proceeds benefit the federal government, except that a Missouri law enforcement agency assisting with the arrest may receive a small percentage of the proceeds in a practice called "equitable sharing."
There are two ways in which property seized within Missouri's borders may be transferred to a federal agency. After an arrest is made by a Missouri law enforcement agency, the prosecuting attorney may determine that the underlying crime is truly a federal crime, such as a crime occurring in multiple states, and transfer the seized property and prosecutorial responsibility to a federal agency. In 2010, of the $5.7 million seized under state law, over $4 million was transferred to a federal agency in this manner.
Alternatively, Missouri law enforcement agencies sometime contact a federal agency to make the seizure directly. Because law enforcement agencies did not submit the statutorily-required reports, the value of such federal seizures is unknown, but it is estimated to be in the tens of millions based upon the amount of equitable sharing received by Missouri law enforcement agencies.
Importance of Reports
The required reports are necessary to ensure transparency and accountability and to allow an informed dialogue regarding possible reform. The State Auditor’s office has sent a letter to those prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement agencies who failed to comply, reminding them of their statutory obligations.
Because of the nature of this compilation, no overall rating is provided.
*The rating(s) cover only audited areas and do not reflect an opinion on the overall operation of the entity. Within that context, the rating scale indicates the following:
The audit results indicate this entity is very well managed. The report contains no findings. In addition, if applicable, prior recommendations have been implemented.
The audit results indicate this entity is well managed. The report contains few findings, and the entity has indicated most or all recommendations have already been, or will be, implemented. In addition, if applicable, many of the prior recommendations have been implemented.
The audit results indicate this entity needs to improve operations in several areas. The report contains several findings, or one or more findings that require management's immediate attention, and/or the entity has indicated several recommendations will not be implemented. In addition, if applicable, several prior recommendations have not been implemented.
The audit results indicate this entity needs to significantly improve operations. The report contains numerous findings that require management's immediate attention, and/or the entity has indicated most recommendations will not be implemented. In addition, if applicable, most prior recommendations have not been implemented.