Reason reported that a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent was convicted Tuesday, August 27, 2019, of lying and fabricating records to mask numerous instances of trying to skim money and other assets during drug busts. During one case, he convinced a confidential informant to buy a truck so the agent could then seize it via asset forfeiture.
A New Orleans jury found retired DEA special agent Chad Scott guilty of seven counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and falsifying government records. According to the U.S. government’s indictment, Scott and two members of a New Orleans drug task force conspired to steal money from suspects and from the DEA’s evidence locker from 2009 to 2016. They falsified their records in an attempt to cover their tracks throughout this process.
Part of this crime was Scott’s efforts to get a Houston drug dealer to purchase a $43,000 Ford F-150 so Scott could seize it through asset forfeiture laws and proceed to use it as a work vehicle. The DEA agent falsified the records to make it look like he seized the truck in Louisiana.
Federal prosecutors also accused the DEA agent of persuading two drug traffickers to lie on the stand about a third defendant’s involvement in a drug case, in order to receive more lenient sentences. The third defendant’s conviction was then overturned.
Through civil asset forfeiture, police can seize property that is allegedly linked to criminal activity, even if the owner isn’t charged with a crime. Law enforcement organization defend the practice by claiming that civil forfeiture is an important tool to derail drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime by targeting illegal funds. Certain civil liberties groups like the Institute for Justice claim the practice creates a policing for profit incentive.
Cases like these demonstrate the perverse incentives that civil asset forfeiture creates. That’s why drug policy and civil asset forfeiture reform are essential for curtailing this abuse and freeing up law enforcement resources to pursue actual violent criminals.