Updates for Sunday, November 20th [2005]

Government Auction


Hello good friends, I hope this morn finds you with great comfort & pleasure. Ludwig needed to make one last run for supplies this last Friday before he had to leave to Chicago, to set up some equipment that he will leave here in Portland. While he purchased many supplies from the Radio Shanty which I work (and it continues to occupy my time although my savings are plentiful), he purchases most of his goods from state government auctions. I enquired as to the nature of these auctions, and contained is his explanation as best I recall, from our conversation as we walked up to the door of the Oregon Department of Administrative Services Property Distribution Center.

Ludwig: So, herr Thomas. Didn't you ever wonder what happened to all that property that the seizes or disposes of with the changing administrations?

Me: What was the property seized for?

Ludwig: Well, usually not much to be honest. One of my friends is an auctioneer, the bidding I do takes place online, we are just here to take a look and inspect the lots before bidding. His name is Herbert Walker, he should know quite a bit about each open lot. I just need some spare computer components and some lab equipment, a NASA office in California which was part of an older wing of the Jet Propulsion laboratory, closed down. Some of the equipment was transferred to a lab that was going to open here in Salem, but the lab never opened so the property went straight on auction.

Daniel: Dude, I so want to buy a police cruiser.

Ludwig: Why did we have to bring Daniel?

Me: I gave him the website with the auctions, and he saw an old model police cruiser that is for sale, the bidding is at $380.

Ludwig: Yes, they sell things like that all the time, very cheap. It is as low in price as what others are willing to pay for it in the auction. Cheaper than the government paying to take it to its own garbage dumps. Anyways, here we are.

Herb: Howdy Luddy, what we got here? You ready to inspect some of these lots?

Ludwig: Yes, this is my friend Thomas and his roommate Daniel.

Daniel: "Hey dude, where's my car?"

Herb: What?

Daniel: I so wanna buy this cop car you guys are selling.

Herb: You must mean the Ford Crown Victoria. It is out in the back lot with the rest of the cars, there are a couple of them actually. We have to go through the supply room floor to get there. Let's go take a quick look, I'll show you around.

Me: Where do you get all of this property?

Herb: Most if it was civil seizures, but a lot is also from department downsizing. You know, one bureaucracy changing hands to another, an office gets shut down here, another gets renovated and the old equipment comes to us. All we gotta do is get rid of it. Send it off to non-profits or auction it off to the lowest bidder. The price they run this place at, hawking it at its lowest price is cheaper than hauling it to the dump.

Me: Interesting. These chairs are nice. Where did they come from?

Herb: These chairs here? They came from Bend, Oregon. As I understood it, a man was renting out a home and police thought he was dealing a little dope on the side. The drug raid was a bust, he was a user but not a dealer. Apparently he was "allowed" to use the marijuana because of an "illness" according to the state medical marijuana bill passed, but the feds don't pay much attention to those state provisions. Because of the complications they didn't charge him, though. They felt cheated that they didn't get a big bust, so they claimed forfeiture on the house. The owner of the house didn't file an eviction notice in time and was taken off-guard when his house was seized, claimed he "didn't know" his tenant did drugs, but screw him, you know? Man rented out his house to a guy who did dope, if you don't look out for things like that, maybe you shouldn't be renting out potential crackhouses. The house was furnished by the owner, so he lost all these nice chairs. Now we got nothing better to do than to auction them off to someone.

Me: What?!

Daniel: Chill out Tommy-boy, happens all the time.

Herb: Actually it does. Take this here, these 10 bed frames and paired mattresses were from a seedy motel out on the bad side of the river in Northeast Portland, the industrial district. The area was a low-income and high-crime area, and the law enforcement agents made a request to the boss of the motel to raise rates as well as implement other "security measures".

Me: Why should the host of an inn raise his rates? What kind of meddling justifies such an act?

Herb: You know, to stop them prostitutes and drug dealers from renting out rooms for shady purposes and being a den of illicit activity. The short of the story is, the manager of the motel didn't like that policy. So the law enforcement sought an injunction to forfeit the property. After having his business taken away from him, he didn't have enough money to fight the charges and prove he wasn't committing crimes with the motel. Eventually they stripped it down, sent the beds and other goods our way. The community heard about this and was in a clamor but it didn't get far because the guy simply didn't have the money to pursue the legal action. If it would've gone to court, I'm sure it would've ended like when they tried the same thing in Houston. More is the pity, he shouldn'tve been shacking up with criminals and perverts anyways.

Me: Were there accusations that the man committed a crime?

Herb: Oh, no. Not that I know of. Doesn't matter though, he was just as bad as those criminals. Too bad we can't do that to every seedy motel with all these drug dealers and prostitutes.

Daniel: You know, that bed is nice. How much is the bidding for?

Herb: That lot? Last I looked, bidding was at something like $5.

Daniel: Wow, for just these mattresses or the bed frames?

Herb: Well, the mattresses are wrapped up in bundles of fives, so you got the whole stack. The bed frames are mostly disassembled, this one here is the only one we have put together as a bed right now. You buy it though and you gotta move the stuff yourself, unless you want to pay our delivery fees. $35 dollars an hour and .35 cents a mile.

Daniel: Holy crap, I could have a whole bedroom full of mattresses! That would be so pimp. Everywhere you go would be somewhere to lay down.

Me: You don't have anywhere to put that many beds, Daniel.

Daniel: Well, on second thought, maybe I'll pass. I don't want to sleep on a bed used by a bunch of drug addled hookers, after all.

Ludwig: The equipment I wanted to look at is just at the other side of this wall of goods here. I gotta step around this desk here and go take a look. I'll be back in a second, you may continue looking around.

Me: We shall do just that. This desk that Ludwig just passed looks rather astonishing, Mr. Walker. Is it mahogany timber?

Herb: Why, yes. That lot almost wasn't here. The owner was a man who died of cancer, his estate was vacant and an informant claimed the house was being used as a meth house. When the police raided the estate, they didn't find any evidence, someone must have tipped off the druggies. The house was fully furnished and under the care of a crack-shot attorney handling matters of his estate. The property was worth $300 thousand, so his family and the attorney wasn't gonna give it up easily. They testimony from the neighbors that the house had been dormant for months, although to me that doesn't mean anything. You know how those drug dealers are. They'll turn any vacant home into a meth lab or crack house.

Me: What if the informant was wrong?

Herb: That doesn't matter. It is a matter of principle. Anyways, after spending nearly $30 thousand on a case brought against us, they managed to get the property back. However, we had already removed most of the furnishings. The state settled the case to give them back an empty estate. It would've been more expensive to fight for the extra property than to just replace it, so they gave up. It is only proper though. The proceeds from this desk are gonna go back to the fight against the terrorists, drug dealers and prostitutes that are destroying America. You guys should make a bid, the auction will close soon and I think you could score it for under $45 bucks.

Daniel: Hey man, I could have my own private office in my room! I even saw a pallet of fax machines over there.

Herb: Now, not everything here was seized. They renovated the Portland school district head offices and replaced all the office equipment, that giant pile over there is the surplus.

Me: Didn't I just read in the paper that they were having problems finding budgeting for the schools?

Herb: Those teachers have to have some kind of office or else they'd be working on the bare floors, after all. Oh, and check out these halide grow lights, they were used by a local business. You know what these lights are used for, boys? Hydroponics. Apparently some local criminals had been using halide grow lights to create home-made marijuana gardens... the kind you buy at garden shops. So the police decided they were going to shut down the supplier of the lights, two gardening supply stores in Eugene and Portland. Sure, it took them a few tries, they sent in undercover operatives to see if an employee would recommend how to grow marijuana, and when that didn't work, they made subtle hints about using the lights for growing marijuana, although you know how it is you can't say anything, and the employee sold them the lights! Can you believe that? The sale of hydroponic lighting should be illegal, if you ask me. We won't have to worry about those businesses anymore, the DEA raided the bank accounts and the owner was altogether bankrupted.

Daniel: Damn, that's some player hatin'. Dude, screw all this junk, I wanna see the cop car.

Herb: Let's go out back and check out the boy's car, let you see the condition.

Daniel: Hello farmer Joe! Shit, look at that tractor. That isn't one of those old shitty tractors either, that is one of those pimpin' tractors. Mega hick blingage going on here. Looking at this tractor I feel like I just watched a redneck episode of "Pimp My Tractor" that was special guest hosted by Brooks Buford.

Herb: I know something about almost everything in this lot, and that is one of the funnier acquisitions we got. A farmer just outside of Salem sold his tractor in installment payments to his neighbor, who went and accidentally ran over a gray fox that darted out in front of it. The guy was one of those chink immigrants, thinking he's going to move to America to be a farmer. Well, seems that the gray fox is on the endangered species list, and somehow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service caught wind of the incident. Well, short of it was that the tractor was used in the commission of a crime. The original owner protested since he had only received a few payments, but hey, those endangered species are no joke. The tractor is valued at $50 thousand dollars, believe it or not. Easily the nicest thing I ever drove. We had a yacht last year from something similar, supposedly had crossed illegally into a protected area of the lake it was on, where there were endangered fish.

Daniel: Oh man, you got to drive the megaton tractor? Sweet.

Herb: Well, someone had to, and I'm the only one here with tractor-driving experience. I grew up outta Texas, our parents owned a farm down there. Anyways boy, come over here, this is the car you were looking at.

Daniel: Wow, it even had the white and black paint on it, no city symbol though?

Herb: They repaint the symbol areas, can't have civilians driving around cars with the official city logo. You can see there are a number of holes in the dash board and some dings along the side, no doubt from its years of active service.

Daniel: Is the bidding on this still $395?

Herb: I don't think so. A small budget movie company wanted to buy it as a prop, and they got into a bidding fight with a Ford collector, so the price is about $720. That's the shitty thing about auctions, eh boy?

Daniel: Son-of-a-biatch. Hey, that Chevy looks nice. How did you get that?

Herb: Seized from a drunk driver. It was an idea that Benton county got, imported the concept from New York. You drive drunk, you lose the car. Even if it is your first arrest. It is part of a new get tough on crime policy. Although this state is a little too liberal to let that fly for long. I'm sure an activist judge will knock it out.

Me: This whole practice is unconstitutional and repugnant. Any judge who exhibits the wisdom in judgment to strike down such a law would correctly be called a hero, for it would take an honest and zealous patriot to acknowledge the ill behind such despicable tyranny.

Herb: Well, you say that now, but maybe you want to live in a world full of drunk drivin' endangered-specie killin' terrorizin' meth-coke-weed dealin' communists and their prostitutes? The police department has to pay for itself somehow, this is one way to stop terrorism and sin, and I'll take it.

Me: *sigh*

We grabbed Ludwig and left, the visitor access for inspection of the lots was only open for three hours. In the end, I also placed a low bid for an item at the auction. While it is discouraging to see so much fall into the governments hands, so long as it remains in the government's possession, it does the private citizens who are defrauded by the government no good. Conspire, my good friends, to buy from their auctions, but never allow bidding to go high, for that would only encourage their furthered pillaging.

your sincere & humble servant,

- TH. Jefferson

Editor's Notes:

The examples given in this update are all inspired by real-life situations (literally or as a construction of several incidents), all arising from asset forfeiture abuse in the last 10 years. The tractor incident actually happened to a man in Bakersfield, California, the buyer of his tractor ran over a Tipton kangaroo rat with it. In Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York, drunk drivers are not only arrested but their cars are in fact seized by the county, with strict policies that have only recently been lightened (although not by much) making it a rather difficult fight to get it back. In Ft. Lauderdale, a bad informant fingered the $300,000 property of a recently deceased man, George Gerhardt. The lawyer handling his estate fought hard and $30,000 later, she managed to get the property back for the family. Even the hotel story is related directly to reality, the same situation arose in Houston, when the U.S. Attorney's Office actually seized a whole motel. There was several months of bad press about the situation which allowed the owner to get back his property, although he was not allowed to seek punitive damages. The hydroponic halide light tale was actually literally told, the man who owned those businesses, Michael Sandsness, had to sell off anything he had left to pay off creditors. The man was not a marijuana user or dealer, he simply sold one piece of hydroponics equipment that was incidentally used to grow marijuana at home, in fact, in all my research of the situation I did not even see that there was proof that ANY halide light that came from his store was used to grow marijuana. Their store, "Rain & Shine", is no longer in business for gardening enthusiasts to enjoy merely because some crazy self-made drug czars thought it should be illegal to sell lamps.

Perhaps more disturbing than the property seizure is the list of cash seizures. If you carry a large sum of cash, that defaults to the argument that you "must" be dealing drugs. This leads to massive seizures of cash. Take the case of Willie Jones, a Nashville landscaper. He paid for his airplane ticket in cash, which raised the attention of police. Accusing him of being a drug dealer, they seized the $9,000 he was taking to Houston to buy more shrubbery for his business. He got the cash back only after two years and a messy federal court case. The Impact Task Force, an anti-crime operation that seems to have many manifestations across the U.S., has been involved in a number of massive forfeitures in supposed drug-related investigations. Such is the case of Penn Industries in Oklahoma City. Penn Industries is an auto parts distributor and had $78,000 in its bank accounts seized because a Colombian customer who was being watched by Impact deposited $2,500 in their account. It took $13,000 in legal fees to convince the government to give the money back, not that they did - it was $3,000 short. This also happened to Hernon Manufacturing in Colorado, who had $30,000 seized, and after a legal battle got back only $24,000, minus $6,000 for their "legal fees" (although he won the case). In '98, Omega Medical Instruments also had its bank accounts seized after they found a cash deposit from a Colombian. The co-founder of the Impact Task Force, a retired U.S. Customs officer, was the group's "full-time consultant" and got a 25% cut from the seizures. What did he contribute? A laundry list of informants from his days investigating money laundering, to help make the operation of seizing the target's money run more smoothly. In the first year of operations alone he pocketed $625,000. According to their own statistics, mostly because they bankrupted most of the people they ran into, 95% of the forfeitures went uncontested, netting the group - often divided into percentages for each "take" between the group members - of multi-millions of dollars.

In the words of George "Herbert Walker" Bush, "Asset forfeiture laws allow [the government] to take the ill-gotten gains of drug kingpins and use them to put more cops on the streets." Unfortunately it also allows the government to pillage the people in a fashion much worse than any organized crime to date. Seizing any property without due process of law - where you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and any property seized needs no tangible justification to be taken - is an abomination to our liberties. More importantly the super-legality of fraudulent seizures of property engenders corruption not only in law enforcement officials but in the very system of written law, which is being skewered to provide special terms that make it possible to sue "the property", making the owner guilty of losing the property unless they can prove within a "preponderance of the evidence" that it was not involved in a crime, not ever having to prove there even was a crime in the first place. This destroys the system of torts and responsibilities that our entire legal system is based on, and it is authorization for open abuse without discretion or responsibility. Some of these cases and precedents of forfeiture are reminiscent of medieval Europe, when the practice began, where Kings would assault the vassalage for their goods and declare those who resist treasonous.

I don't care whether you believe it helps the fight against crime or not. Unless you believe in a Soviet-style judicial system, you must acknowledge the simple fact that the government has no right to exercise asset forfeiture unless they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that not only was there a crime committed, but that the crime was committed by the property owner and was either used during the commission of the crime or was gained through some justified result of the crime, and in the cases that property is seized, the net worth of the value of the property should go to compensate the victims of the criminal activity, not to finance our police departments. We pay plenty in taxes, we should be able to afford police departments that do their jobs without them seeking financial support from seizing property. Of course, the hundreds of irresponsible District Attorneys who abuse these laws will lose the ability to cherry pick weekly plunderings, so I doubt you will get too much support between them and the politicians who enjoy kickbacks from such raids. Oh well.

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