Where Does All That Seized Money Go?

Asset forfeiture: an ugly side of the drug war

By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 13, 2008 5:42 AM CDT

(Newser) – What would you do with a few million in drug money? Last year, state and federal authorities seized about $2 billion from Mexican smugglers. The feds have to put any seized money into a dedicated fund, but the rules are looser for states. In Texas and Georgia, for example, sheriffs and district attorneys get to keep any seized loot for their departments. The Economist takes a look at the issue and the sometimes iffy purchases that result.

Among them: a margarita machine, a training seminar in Hawaii, and a $90,000 sports car used to advertise anti-drug programs. Besides abuses, some poorer counties have come to rely on the funds for their budgets, which may make them more likely to go after cash-laden traffickers heading back to Mexico, after they've sold their goods, rather than catching them when they're first heading north.

Members of the media gather to photograph confiscated guns and money seized during a series of raids on a violent South Los Angeles street gang.
Members of the media gather to photograph confiscated guns and money seized during a series of raids on a violent South Los Angeles street gang.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Charles Beck, at podium, assistant Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department, speaks at a news conference Thursday, April 12, 2007, displaying confiscated guns and money.
Charles Beck, at podium, assistant Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department, speaks at a news conference Thursday, April 12, 2007, displaying confiscated guns and money.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
This March 16, 2007 file photo, provided by Mexico's Attorney General's office, shows the largest seizure of cash in the history of drug enforcement, around US$ 207 million.
This March 16, 2007 file photo, provided by Mexico's Attorney General's office, shows the largest seizure of cash in the history of drug enforcement, around US$ 207 million.   (AP Photo/PGR)
A Colombian paramilitary is aided by a U.S. DEA Agent as he exits the plane at his arrival in Opa-locka, Fla., Tuesday, May 13, 2008.
A Colombian paramilitary is aided by a U.S. DEA Agent as he exits the plane at his arrival in Opa-locka, Fla., Tuesday, May 13, 2008.   (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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