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The DEA seized an innocent man's life savings without charging him with a crime

Published: August 17, 2021
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Source: Boing Boing

Kermit Warren shined shoes at a hotel and collects scrap metal for a living. Besides serving in the Army Corps of Engineers, he is a deacon at his church and is a proud grandfather. None of that mattered to the Drug Enforcement Administration which used civil forfeiture laws to swipe his life savings that he was going to use to buy a truck. Now Warren wants his savings back, but the government would like to keep them.

From Institute for Justice:

Kermit Warren is a hardworking grandfather and the head deacon of his church in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. After losing his home to Hurricane Katrina, Kermit managed to rebuild his life. Thanks to a dogged work ethic, frugal lifestyle, diligent saving, and a small inheritance, Kermit managed to build a nest egg of nearly $30,000 in cash over several years. When Kermit lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he tried to use his savings to purchase a tow truck that he could use to support himself. But, on a trip to Ohio, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers took Kermit's much-needed life savings. Now, the federal government is trying to keep his money using the abusive practice of civil forfeiture, which does not require charging Kermit with any crime, let alone securing a conviction.

Kermit and his youngest son, Leo, lost their hotel jobs when the pandemic began. They decided to turn Kermit's longtime side gig of hauling scrap metal into a fulltime, father-son enterprise. But they needed a tow truck for the business to support them. In early November 2020, with Kermit's cash life savings in hand, they flew to Ohio, where they had arranged to look at a truck that they hoped to buy and drive home. But when the truck turned out to be too large for their needs, they had to fly back to New Orleans.

At the Columbus airport, TSA screeners noticed that Kermit had a large amount of cash in his bag. They asked him about it but let him continue to his gate. Later, as Kermit and Leo were waiting to board their flight, DEA agents approached them and asked questions about Kermit's cash. The officers were uninterested in Kermit's and Leo's evidence about the source and purpose of the money; it was clear the officers were simply there to take it. Kermit panicked and did something he greatly regrets: In a last-ditch effort to avoid losing his hard-earned life savings, he told the agents that he was a retired New Orleans police officer and showed them his other son's old badge, which Kermit keeps for sentimental reasons. The officers saw through this right away and Kermit admitted that he was not a former cop.

The DEA agents took all of Kermit's money. But they did not arrest Kermit or Leo or charge them with any crime. Instead, the agents let them board their plane to New Orleans without Kermit's life savings.

About six months later, the government filed a civil forfeiture complaint in federal court, arguing that Kermit's money should be permanently taken because it is somehow connected to drug activity. But the government's allegations do not connect Kermit or his money to any crime. Instead, the government contends that Kermit vaguely fits the profile of a drug courier. But the government should not be able to take property forever with flimsy evidence; it should have to prove someone's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now, Kermit has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to call the government's bluff and ensure that the judiciary holds the government to its burden of presenting actual evidence of criminality before taking away what he worked so hard to set aside.

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