Sunday, September 15, 2013

How a Philadelphia Family Lost Their Home to Asset Forfeiture

Under the legal doctrine of civil forfeiture, police can seize property tangentially linked to a crime, even if the property owner herself is innocent. As Isaiah Thompson reports in the Philadelphia City Paper, this is precisely what happened to Sandra Leino and her family:

“Long before the forfeiture action against her house would be completed, and without a judge or jury ever seeing her face, Leino would be forced from her house and made homeless along with her three children. She would lose her most precious possessions, and ultimately be deprived of her family’s most valuable asset — all without Leino ever being accused of any crime.”

But while Sandra and her children were completely innocent of any wrongdoing, her husband, Sam, was accused and arrested for selling prescription pills. (Sandra asserts Sam was legally using those painkillers for his own personal use, after he was partially disabled from a truck accident.)

Just a few months after his arrest, the Philadelphia District Attorney filed a motion to seize the Leinos’ home in May 2010—a year and a half before Sam Leino even went to trial. Later that month, the Leinos were kicked out of their own home. They tried staying at a motel, but couldn’t afford it for more than one week. With no other options at the time, they were even forced to sleep in the backwoods.

Fortunately, a relative was able to take the Leinos for five months, albeit in tight quarters. Since then, Sandra has been able to rent a new place.

“But on her own now, and unable to pay rent on top of the mortgage on the house she was barred from entering, she began missing mortgage payments. When the DA did eventually withdraw its forfeiture case against the Leinos’ house, it was only because the bank had already foreclosed.”

As for Sam, in 2012, he went to trial and was “found guilty of one count of possession with intent to distribute, and sentenced to three to six years.”

But the story doesn’t end there. Isaiah Thompson elaborates:

“Four of the police officers who surveilled and arrested Sam Leino are among a group of six narcotics officers whose credibility has been effectively dismissed by the DA’s Office itself after allegations were made in open court that they were part of a drug-dealing ring within the Philadelphia Police Department…How many times the DA’s forfeiture unit has seized property based on the testimony of these officers is not presently clear.”

So far, the Philadelphia DA has dropped almost 300 cases due to this misconduct.

Unfortunately, Sandra Leino’s story is not an isolated incident. Between 300 and 600 real-estate forfeiture cases are brought per year by the Philadelphia District Attorney. Lax laws and scant protections have created hundreds of Sandra Leinos, just in Philadelphia.

According to the Institute for Justice’s nationwide study, Policing for Profit, Pennsylvania has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws. Law enforcement agencies can forfeit property based on a mere “preponderance of the evidence,” which is a much less stringent standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal convictions.

Plus, property owners have to prove their innocence, reversing both the burden of proof and centuries of jurisprudence. In other words, in civil forfeiture proceedings, property owners actually have fewer protections than accused criminals.

Not only that, under Pennsylvania state law, police can keep 100 percent of all proceeds seized from civil forfeiture. In fact, the Philadelphia DA has raked in more than $6 million a year in civil forfeiture proceeds.

Most of this policing for profit is from cash seizures. But “the average amount of cash seized by Philadelphia police was $550 — hardly the proceeds of a Pablo Escobar or a Walter White.” No wonder a Pennsylvania judge has lambasted civil forfeiture as “little more than state-sanctioned theft.”



Another lying Leftist

Five days after WND first broke the news that the strategy by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Secretary of State John F. Kerry to cast members of the Free Syria Army as “moderates” among the Syrian rebel forces was the brain-child of a Wall Street Journal researcher, the analyst has been fired from a Washington think-tank for lying about her qualifications.

As WND reported, Elizabeth O’Bagy, 26, had claimed she was pursuing a Ph.D. in Arab studies and political science at Georgetown University and working on a dissertation on woman’s militancy.

In his Sept. 3 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry cited O’Bagy, arguing that the war in Syria is “not being waged entirely or even predominately by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards,” but rather the struggle is being led but “moderate opposition forces – a collection of groups known as the Free Syria Army.”

Kerry was citing an opinion piece O’Bagy wrote for the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 30 titled “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War.” It ran with a tag-line “The conventional wisdom – that jihadists are running the rebellion [in Syria] – is not what I’ve witnessed on the ground.”

O’Bagy, then the Syria team leader at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think-tank, claimed she had submitted and defended her dissertation and Georgetown University would soon confer her degree.

“The Institute for the Study of War has learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O’Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a statement Wednesday. “ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O’Bagy’s employment, effective immediately.”

Upon learning O’Bagy had been fired from ISW, WND senior staff reporter Jerome Corsi, who broke the original story, said, “We investigated O’Bagy last week and reported she was a graduate student. I think it was our story that triggered the awareness by the Obama administration and Kerry and McCain that this woman was fraudulently represented herself as a Ph.D.”

He added, “We pointed out she had the associations with the radical Islamic groups that are promoting the Free Syrian Army.”

Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, told Politico, “[W]e were not aware of Elizabeth O’Bagy’s academic claims or credentials when we published her Aug. 31 op-ed, and the op-ed made no reference to them.

“We also were not aware of her affiliation with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, and we published a clarification when we learned of it. We are investigating the contents of her op-ed to the best of our ability, but to date we have seen no evidence to suggest any information in the piece was false.”

Corsi also reported that when McCain when to Iraq, O’Bagy set up interviews and provided him with a Washington operative who was in Syria.

“Basically O’Bagy made fools of them all (Obama, McCain and Kerry),” Corsi said. “They wanted so desperately to go on their theory there was a moderate force in Syria. They jumped on the bandwagon. They didn’t realize she was loading them up with radicals from the Free Syria Army.”

In his investigative piece, Corsi revealed that the O’Bagy narrative is contradicted by intelligence estimates and experts specializing in the region.

After Kerry’s testimony to Congress, Reuters reported: “Secretary of State John Kerry’s public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and non-governmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements.”



The President’s Embarrassment

When Secretary of State John Kerry, apparently irritated by a lack of sleep, gave a snippy and what he thought was an unrealistic reply to a reporter’s question at a London press conference last weekend, he hardly could have imagined the world’s response. Asked whether there is anything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do at this relatively late hour to avoid an American invasion, Kerry told an international audience that if Assad gave up whatever chemical weapons his government possesses, the U.S. would forgo an invasion.

But not to worry, Kerry added. Assad is not going to do that, and we will end up invading Syria in order to vindicate President Obama’s threat to do so. For two days, Obama remained silent on this as his arch-nemesis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, grabbed the spotlight and the high moral ground.

Putin, sounding more like a Nobel Peace laureate than the killer he is known to be, offered to broker a deal whereby the Syrian chemical stockpile would be surrendered to the United Nations, the Syrian government could go about defending itself from the al-Qaida-driven effort to take it over, and the U.S. would leave Syria alone.

Obama is generally firm in his belief that he needs to vindicate the threat he made last summer when he was trying to outdo Mitt Romney on sounding tough. It was then that Obama threatened to intervene in the Syrian civil war if chemical weapons were used by the government. Nevertheless, hating the international embarrassment visited upon him when suddenly Putin seems more reasonable than he does, Obama conceded to my Fox News colleague Chris Wallace that the Kerry-inspired and Putin-pushed idea seemed worth considering. And then the Syrian government agreed.

Just last week, the president was arguing that only military force would show the world that the U.S. means what it says. Just last week, he realized that he needed political cover in order to justify an unpopular invasion, and so he asked Congress for permission to invade Syria, even while knowing that he already has the legal authority to invade on his own. Just last week, he dispatched his political team, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to argue that war is the only way to go. And just last week, he intimated that he might bomb Syria even if Congress said no.

What happened?

What happened was the president’s head counters polled their allies on Capitol Hill earlier this week and informed him that he was about to become the first American president in history to seek war-making authority from Congress and have it denied to him, including by many members of his own political party.

The president cannot even say for sure that the weapons he and his advisers claim were used were in fact deployed by the Assad regime. Nor can they state with intellectual honesty that the freedom or safety of Americans is affected by any weaponry used in this civil war 6,700 miles from our shores.

The legal linchpin of American involvement in a foreign war is not American hatred of one of the weapons systems used in the war, but the imminence of danger to American freedom and safety if we stay out. Treaties to which the U.S. is a party and the body of international law to which the U.S. subscribes make clear that the U.S. cannot lawfully use military force to punish the government of another country without first demonstrating that the other country’s military poses an immediate threat of danger to the U.S. Obama and Kerry have been unable to address this.

They also have been unable to address how the U.S. can punish Syria for using weapons that the U.S. and the U.N. have outlawed but Syria has not. Put aside the fact that Syria is a client state of Russia and hence will be protected by it at the U.N., Syria never agreed to the U.N. prohibition on chemical weapons in the first place. So the U.N. is without lawful authority to authorize any violent American intercession in Syria over the use of these weapons.




FL: Jones arrested on frivolous charges to stop burning of Qurans:  "A Florida pastor was arrested Wednesday as he drove a pickup truck towing a large barbecue-style grill filled with kerosene-soaked Qurans to a park, where the pastor had said he was planning to burn 2,998 of the Muslim holy books -- one for every victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Sheriff's deputies in Polk County, Fla., arrested Pastor Terry Jones, 61, and his associate pastor, Marvin Sapp Jr., 44, each on a felony charge of unlawful conveyance of fuel. Jones had said he was heading to a nearby park in Mulberry to burn the Qurans on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the attacks. Sheriff's officials said that Jones was also charged with unlawful open-carry of a firearm, a misdemeanor, and that Sapp faces a charge of having no valid registration for the trailer"

Is your iPad ratting you out to the feds?:  "Your home computer—assuming you still have one, of course—should be safe from the grabby hands of public officials. In theory, at least. Law enforcement personnel are supposed to obtain a search warrant before they barge into your house and start confiscating electronic equipment. But when you're on the road and perhaps storing important documents on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, all bets are off. Your devices are subject to seizure on the flimsiest of pretexts, and any data they hold can be pirated."

Hanauer and Liu: False premises beget false conclusions:  "Like so many others, Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu base their disdain for libertarianism on a false premise of their own devising when they write in Bloomberg, 'Libertarians Are the New Communists:' 'Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution.' In reality libertarians understand that humans are wired to be both selfish and social, and they agree, with one caveat, that 'cooperation is the height of human evolution.'"


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