Opinion writer

Public opinion may be solidly opposed to civil asset forfeiture. It may be opposed by much of Congress, state legislatures and elected officials outside of law enforcement. But the outrages continue. First up, an Internal Revenue Service forfeiture, reported here in The Washington Post: 

Oh Suk Kwon, who left South Korea for America in 1976, served as a fleet mechanic in the U.S. Army. After four years in the military, decades of working in an electrical plant and as an auto mechanic, after raising the kids and seeing them off to their adult lives, Kwon finally bought a gas station in Ellicott City in 2007. It meant everything to him.

Just a few years after he opened it, zealous government investigators fishing for criminals seized all of the station’s money on a hunch — and wiped the family out.

No, they weren’t money launderers or terrorists or mobsters or tax evaders. The government found no evidence of criminal activity.

But after the investigation ended, after the gas station went under, and Kwon’s wife died amid the stress of it all, after he moved from his neighborhood in shame and the Internal Revenue Service changed its policy so no other small business would get steamrolled this way — the agency won’t give Kwon his money back.

That’s $59,117.47 the IRS is holding on to.

As recently as August — the last time Kwon, now 73, asked for his money back — the IRS said no.

The IRS took the money because of “structuring,” the asinine law that makes it a crime to deposit or withdraw less than $10,000 in a bank account in order to avoid having the transaction reported to the government.

Meanwhile, Alabama.com has more examples from that state:

Within moments, a Homewood police sergeant had declared a room full of customers’ computers, merchandise and other items “stolen goods,” Ranelli recalled. He ordered his officers to “arrest them all,” according to Ranelli, who was cuffed and taken to the Homewood jail along with two of his shop employees.

The police proceeded to confiscate more than 130 computers – most of which were customers’ units waiting to be repaired, though some were for sale – as well as the company’s business servers and workstations and even receipts and checkbooks.

The officers were acting on a tip from an informant who claimed that FAR Computers was knowingly purchasing electronics that had been stolen from homes in Homewood, according to court documents

Nothing ever came of the case. The single charge of receiving stolen goods was dismissed after Ranelli demonstrated that he had followed proper protocol in purchasing the sole laptop computer he was accused of receiving illegally.

Yet none of the property seized by police that summer morning more than seven years ago has been returned to him.

“Here I was, a man, owned this business, been coming to work every day like a good old guy for 23 years, and I show up at work that morning – I was in here doing my books from the day before – and the police just f***ed my life,” he said.

The article also tells the story of Cherie Marceaux, whose husband sold some marijuana to a police informant. After a search of her home turned up more marijuana, Marceaux pleaded guilty to a single count of possession. She got probation and a fine. The police then took her home, all the land around it and nearly everything in it, alleging that it was all “ill-gotten” gains from drug-dealing. They even took the $70 in her daughter’s piggy bank.

According to local police, the Marceauxs eventually became a federal case, governed by federal law. But even if that’s true, this probably wasn’t a case in which local police went to the feds to get around state laws. In Alabama, they likely wouldn’t need to. The state’s civil forfeiture laws rank among the worst in the country.