An old friend of mine from the Bronx used to do some schtick where he told people he was ten feet tall: five feet of lawyer standing atop a five foot high pile of money. I bet Joe Frank Garza knows exactly what he meant.
Joe Frank Garza, a former district attorney in South Texas, was sentenced Friday to 180 days in jails for using money seized from drug busts to boost his pay and the pay of other employees in his office.
Garza was ordered to repay $2 million that he misappropriated. He earlier pleaded guilty to the crime.
You mean it wasn’t his to use however he wanted? Well, that must have been embarrassing, and really paints slush funds in a negative light.
Asset forfeiture is the sink hole of law enforcement. Sure, it’s described sweetly as “taking the profit out of crime,” by seizing back those nasty ill-gotten gains of crime. Who could possibly against that? Of course, the devil (as usual) is in the details, where forfeiture is used as leverage to get people to walk away from baseless seizures upon pain of prosecution, or that probable cause is all that’s needed for the smiling officer to take whatever he can grab and walk away with.
The putative use for such swag is to bolster law enforcement efforts, to keep those mother-rapers and father-rapers from doing in the wimmenfolk. Certainly we want to protect the wimminfolk, right? Except where exactly the money goes is rarely known. Heck, most of the time, no one even knows just how much money is held in those secret bank accounts. Much as they would love to say, it would reveal their secret law enforcement methods to the bad guys, and we can’t have that.
So how did Joe Frank manage to take these seized funds and make himself incredibly handsome?
Legislation is pending in Texas that would restrict law enforcement officers’ ability to use seized assets for their personal benefit. (Here’s a link to the bill.)
You see, if there is no law specifically prohibiting a prosecutor or sheriff from using the seized assets for, say, drinks for the boys, a smallish tank, paying off the bag men, how would anybody know it was wrong? Seriously, isn’t this a mistake pretty much any prosecutor could make?
Yet Garza’s enjoyment of forfeited funds should not be seen as a condemnation of the system that both grabs assets from anybody who can’t fight back and puts it into the hands of the easily tempted.
But according to this report from the Department of Justice, asset forfeiture laws play a key part in fighting crime by “depriving criminals of the proceeds of illegal activity . . .and restoring property to victims.”
Fine purposes indeed. So when you happen to spy the next ten foot tall prosecutor, remember that he’s keeping America safe, even if he does look damn good for a five foot tall lawyer.