Civil Asset Forfeiture Victim Fought — and Won — When the Government Tried to Take His Property

Imagine owning your home outright after finally paying off the bank. You’re nearing retirement, and you’re making plans to travel and visit the grandkids. Then one day, you get a letter from the government with an unexpected declaration: We now own your house.

Russ Caswell, a 72-year-old business owner from Massachusetts, got one of those letters. Except the government seized his entire business — a motel worth nearly $2 million — without so much as a warning.

Russ Caswell stands in front of the Motel Caswell in 2011. The business owner said the government tried to take his property purely for profit, and that they targeted him because he had his building completely paid off. (Image via Facebook)

“When this first started, I got this notice in the mail and I thought it was some sort of mistake or something, with no warning, no nothing … basically, after you got through all the legal mumbo jumbo, it said, ‘We’re taking your property,’ and I was dumbfounded,” Caswell told TheBlaze.

The Drug Enforcement Administration seized the budget motel under civil property forfeiture regulations because the agency claimed illegal activity was taking place at the establishment. The Motel Caswell then became the centerpiece of a bizarre federal court case: The United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

Caswell said he was hoping during the trial he’d at least find out why this was happening; he still had no idea why the government was coming after his livelihood. He hadn’t been charged with a crime.

“My lawyer deposed eight of the local police and I figured I’d find out what they say I should have done or didn’t do, but it turns out after the depositions none of them said a single thing against me, it’s like they were on my side — I don’t think they were or weren’t — but they had nothing to say against me,” he said.

But when Caswell’s lawyer asked Vincent Kelley, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, to explain how he picked certain properties to seize, that’s when the motel owner said he knew ”what the case was really about.”

The DEA agent revealed that their process included seeking out places that were linked to drug arrests, but they would only try to seize properties that had at least $50,000 in equity.

“So then it was like a light went off,” Caswell said. “Now I get what this is about, it’s not about drugs at all — it’s about stealing people’s property.” Continue reading

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