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Saturday, March 25th, 2017Last Update: Friday, February 3rd, 2017 01:39:14 PM

Of Gumdrops and Devils Candy: the Fairy Tale Casting of Asset Forfeiture

By: Andrew K. Boyle

Tale as old as time, children out to pick rocks stumble upon a house made entirely of gingerbread and trimmed in candy. The Brothers Grimm made legend of the young German gluttons, Hansel and Gretel, and their famous overindulgence of all matters confection, a witch, ominous fire...et al. Life imitating art, a new greedy child has been exposed; gumdrops were only a gateway to the monster that would eventually consume a District Attorney, a house made entirely out of "the devils candy."

Before the metaphor eats the house, some quick details. As reported by oklahomawatch.org, a state audit recently revealed that monies and property seized by various Oklahoma law-enforcement agencies has either disappeared or been misused in rather Hansel eats the living room wall types of ways. Not yet releasing names, one prosecutor was found to have diverted $5,000 of seized cash to payoff student loans, another was found to have personally lived in a forfeited house for several years. Living rent free quickly became less of a fix for the still unnamed Beaver County Assistant District Attorney, this Hansel fixed up the drug house and paid utilities out of a supervision fee account. Demands to sell the house at auction were somehow delayed for between 3 and 5 years, with the ADA finally moving out in 2009.

Now, I know what your thinking, by the last sentence you are starting to read more quickly and skipping a few words; "corruption, corruption, corruption..... I wonder what else is in this edition." Government agents misusing funds in increasingly audacious ways, not being caught for six years, still going unnamed -- depressingly unworthy of ink in this fine paper. I'm with you, and that is why I love Oklahoma.

In all of the union of the states, there are few places better equipped to deal with a case like this than Oklahoma. Her people are good, and they have no problem throwing politicians into the witches fire after it's found they were squatting in the gumdrop house. In short order the nasty little children in this story will have their names released, and facing public outcry, they will probably be run out of the state, forced to take jobs as boosters for the University of Texas -- a place their honed talents will be appreciated. Life in the sooner state will return to normal, a new fella will get a chance to do the work of the people in Beaver County, and that'll be just fine. But let not your virtue stop here.

The individuals involved here not withstanding, the real fall out of this case will be in the laws passed or not passed in reaction to this abuse. For liberty is not threatened by one person redirecting government monies to personal endeavors; it is threatened by a government protecting broad powers of seizure and asset forfeiture as basic tools of law enforcement.

In reaction to the audit, and seeking to ride a wave of public outrage, State Senator Kyle Loveless has put forth a bill seeking to curb these practices by law enforcement. Making forfeiture contingent upon a conviction (bizarrely a protection absent present law), he seeks to further retard the practice by stipulating forfeited funds go to the State's general revenue fund, not into slushy funds controlled by the seizing party. Seems reasonable enough, remove the perverse incentive for law enforcement and the DA's office to self-fund and you should have fewer perverse DA's using law enforcement as a Realtor.

Whenever something is reasonable enough, politics will make it instantly unreasonable. A bevy of DA's not currently living in forfeited drug houses have come forward to defend the necessity of asset forfeiture as currently construed to continue funding the State's war on drugs. Comanche County Sheriff Kenny Stradley did his best Brothers Grimm and gave us the moment of literary genius in the fairy tale: "I know for a fact we all try to work very hard to rid this devil's candy (drugs) off of our state. And for someone to try and push us back -- sheriff's departments, police departments -- that's how we continue our fight, is to take that money and go forward. That will set us back many, many, many years."

As a general rule whenever a politician hides behind a "fruits of the devil" justification, that is a warning sign that you are being manipulated. In the war on junk-food heightened threat level, "this devil's candy" should activate DEFCOM-5 warnings in your mind. Even Satan himself used an apple to take away man's freedom; devil's candy? Have you no shame Hansel Stradley?

The self funding argument assumes the legitimacy of the war on drugs, but are they assuming as fact that which is not in evidence? Oklahoma has been seizing assets for years and forfeiting them to the SWAT teams for use in raids on storehouses of devil's candy. How's that going for you Oklahoma? Is I-35 more or less of a drug corridor now compared to then?

As I have written before in these pages, I live in a state where more drugs are legal than are in Oklahoma. Both state's have similar problems with Pot, my state just so happens to not seek forfeiture to combat it. Forever claiming Oklahoma has a very small drug-use problem and a much larger drug-trafficking problem, politicians have mostly railed against the master planning of the interstate highway that brings drugs into and through the state. Experience living in Oklahoma taught me that drug traffic is more instate consumer driven than a matter of geographical misfortune.

It is past time for the people of Oklahoma to debate just how much drug use goes on inside their bounds and what effect the war on these drugs has had. Finding Oklahoma to be in the same quagmire other States forever battling candy-kings find themselves, issues of liberty should begin to trump tactical ideas of troop surges. The real scandal of this life as a devil's candy house case is not the ridiculousness of gaming the system, but the unreported magnitude of the assets forfeited. Nationwide, asset forfeiture has been employed 55,000 times since 2008, with total transfers of more than $3billion taking place. Averaged out, each time a law enforcement agency seizes property they take a little over $54,000 -- about $10,000 more than median income. Put another way; each time the government seizes assets, they take from an individual an average earnings of that person from January 1 through the end of March, the next calendar year. Assuming incompetence in a predictable number of cases, is it a bigger threat to liberty to seize the money or to excuse the collateral damage for persons innocent in pursuit of a greater good?

The war on drugs has been lost. Anyone telling you otherwise probably has a job dependent on the conflagrations continuing forever -- possibly free housing out of the deal. The great opportunity here is that in bringing our boys home we are not surrendering to an enemy of liberty, but preserving liberty in a way our republic demands.

I am no fan on drugs. I have mostly seen them take over and destroy lives. I have seen, thanks to my Colorado residency, drugs used in a recreational way that has surprised me in its brevity and remarkable discipline. Still, I generally expect drugs to destroy people, and am relieved when they don't. But on the other side, liberty surrendered is always a gateway to liberty lost. Any chance to restore liberty must be seized, even if it means giving up on the fantasy of a State without the devil's candy.

Just as the goodness of the Oklahoma people can be relied upon to rid the state of the corrupt DA's in this case, that same goodness will be there to pick up the people ruined by drugs. Drug use will never overtake the state, the people would never allow it. Not for reasons of government, but for reasons of basic humanity and goodness. For that reason, liberty must be fiercely restored here, as always. This is the burden of freedom, eternal vigilance, not endless war. Free-Minds are as important as Free-Markets, not something that comes naturally to most Republicans. Here, a Free-Mind will bequeath a people free from the tyranny of asset forfeiture, and the welfare burden of ADA's in search of a screaming deal in an otherwise tough real-estate market.

About Andrew K. Boyle

A five year resident of Oklahoma and a graduate of Azusa Pacific University, Andrew K. Boyle currently writes from a gulch hidden in the mountains of Colorado. He is the author of the new book The Courage to Rebel: breaking a corrupt system Available at Amazon.com. You can follow him on twitter @andrewkboyle

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