At times police officers are no strangers to theft, even though they are supposed to be the ones who stop people from stealing. Some of their operations may cause them to be tempted with having access to large criminal forfeitures of money and property. In Glades County and elsewhere in Florida, officers occasionally abuse their authority by dipping into these troves of goods for themselves.
Tri-County Task Force Laundering Operation
An operation that involved the Glades County Sheriff’s Office and the Bal-Harbour Police Department intercepted over $70 million from drug cartels when they posed as illegal money launderers. Unfortunately, the poorly named “Tri-County Task Force” that was formed between the two agencies never actually made any arrests. It seems that some officers had merely used the operation as an elaborate front to be able to spend the intercepted drug money. The officers involved skimmed about three percent of the funds for themselves, leaving them over $2 million for personal use. Some of the funds were traced to expensive dinners in Miami, stays at resorts in Las Vegas and Puerto Rico, and personal electronics. The Chief of Law Enforcement from the Glades County Sheriff’s Office was quoted as saying he believed the forfeiture funds could ultimately be used for upgraded equipment for the department.
Numerous scandals across the nation involving forfeiture money have created discussion and controversy over exactly how seized money and property should be handled by law enforcement agencies.
How can victims of police theft or seizures get their belongings back?
There are some factors to consider when determining if you can get something returned that was taken by police. Money, weapons, or drugs that are related to ongoing criminal investigations is usually considered contraband that will be introduced as evidence at trial. Evidence holds can be placed on items for months or years, and contraband items are never returned. This is also true in most instances where any kind of criminal nexus can be associated with the seized item, even if formal charges are not pursued or cases do not end in convictions.
Items that are taken when a car is towed as a result of a traffic stop are inventoried and kept somewhere for safe keeping. In most cases, these items are returned to the owner shortly afterward if they are not related to any criminal activity or needed as part of an investigation.
Despite these formalities, there are times when police merely steal things from people without a proper reason to do so. Common targets include cell phones that capture evidence of misconduct, or funds in cash which are difficult to trace or prove the source. Police are supposed to produce formal documentation that states the nature of the items in their possession whenever property is seized. However, these summaries are not always available, especially in cases where wrongdoing needs to be covered.
In most cases when property is not returned immediately, the main remedy is to file a petition for a hearing with the local court. A lawyer can go over the specifics of this process when speaking with you.
Get help from a lawyer to get your stuff back
If the police have something of yours that has significant value, it may be worthwhile to have a conversation with a local lawyer in Glades County. Attorneys who have experience dealing with police departments can in Florida explain your rights and recommend a course of action.