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Asset Forfeiture Unit

The Asset Forfeiture Unit operates within the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit is responsible for the prosecution of criminal and civil forfeiture cases. In addition to litigating civil forfeiture cases, the section provides support to Criminal Division AUSAs (Assistant United States Attorneys) on all criminal forfeiture issues. Forfeiture AUSAs work with most of the federal law enforcement agencies, assisting their criminal investigations by identifying assets subject to forfeiture and developing evidence for seizure and forfeiture.

The essence of the forfeiture program involves applying forfeiture to the infrastructure of criminal enterprises, limiting the ability of these organizations to continue their illegal activities. We believe that measurable damage can be inflicted upon drug cartels, criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations by removing the assets that facilitate their criminal activities and minimizing any profit incentive. Seizure and forfeiture are the best tools law enforcement agencies have to accomplish this objective. Additionally, the proceeds of forfeited assets are used to support the law enforcement community in its efforts to combat the escalating globalization and sophistication of criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations.

Forfeiture laws have evolved from admiralty laws to the present-day United States Code that provides two fundamental alternatives for assets to be forfeited to the government. Assets can be forfeited under civil forfeiture or criminal forfeiture proceedings. Civil forfeiture actions are in rem, against the property, while criminal forfeiture actions are in personam, against the person. Civil forfeitures can be processed administratively by certain federal agencies or judicially by the filing of a complaint in federal district court.

Throughout the 1970s, law enforcement agencies primarily used asset forfeiture in an attempt to dismantle traditional organized crime enterprises. As the concern with drug trafficking increased, federal forfeiture programs began concentrating their forfeiture related initiatives on drug related seizures. By 1980, federal investigative agencies with jurisdiction to investigate drug offenses began seizing assets in numbers that exceeded what was contemplated in the 1970s. Thousands of illegally gained assets were seized, the majority of which were processed administratively for civil forfeiture. This shift of investigative priorities had a significant impact on the type of property seized. RICO seizures were generally for high value assets processed under criminal forfeiture procedures while drug related seizures were generally of lower value and processed under civil forfeiture procedures.

In the 1980s Congress successfully identified and defined the new criminal offense of money laundering. Again, law enforcement agencies shifted emphasis and put resources into identifying the illegal monies generated by these organized criminal enterprises. In general, a financial transaction involving these illegal monies which promotes the criminal enterprise, violates the tax laws, disguises ownership, or avoids reporting requirements imposed by law is a money laundering offense. The identification of laundered funds is an effort to take the profit out of crime. Money laundering cases generally involve large amounts of currency and high value assets. The money laundering offense has proven to be successful in debilitating large criminal enterprises. It is an offense of growing importance internationally as financial service institutions have merged and advanced technologically and criminal enterprises have become transnational.

Asset forfeiture continues to evolve, as evidenced by the enactment of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), Public Law 106-185 in 2000 and the USA Patriot Act, Public Law 107-56 in 2001. CAFRA addressed substantive and procedural changes in civil forfeiture (both administrative and judicial) actions. Provisions of CAFRA impose statutory time limits on certain forfeiture processes, expand the agencies' ability to use civil and criminal forfeiture sanctions to dismantle criminal enterprises, and reinforce the due process rights of individuals.

The USA Patriot Act was enacted as a direct result of the events of September 11, 2001. The statute enhances, strengthens and improves domestic border security, intelligence gathering and sharing, surveillance availability, and law enforcement investigative authority to address terrorist threats to the United States. The Act also expanded the tools to seize and forfeit assets that facilitate terrorist activity.

To contact the Asset Forfeiture Unit, call 1-800-733-6558, or locally in Kansas City call 816-426-3122.