Like the grimmest cancers, the civil forfeiture case against present and former members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club seems incurable. Fifty months after the United States of America sent 1600 militarized police in five states to arrest and harass members of the club and steal or break every possession they could reach, the never ending Mongols case continues.
Most of the action these days is related to the motorcycles, cash, guns, documents, electronics and mementos that police “seized” in October 2008. The majority of the victims of this seizure were never accused of any crime. They were never accused because they were at least as innocent as the Pope. All of the stolen property was seized as “evidence.” By law, it should have been returned in January 2009. The deadline was ignored because the judge then presiding over the case, the late Florence Marie Cooper, died. So scores of Mongols, relatives and friends of Mongols and people rumored to be connected to the Mongols sued to get their property back. The resulting case is officially called United States of America versus Assorted Firearms, Motorcycles and Other Personal Property.
Never Gonna Get It
The most recent action in the case was an objection filed yesterday afternoon by Juan Alfred Gonzalez, who now lives in Florida and who has been waiting four years for the government of, by and for the people to return what it stole from him. Gonzalez is representing himself because he cannot afford a lawyer and he is objecting that he was never notified that he would have to sue the government to get his property back.
The villain at the center of this mad drama is a portly and florid bully named Steven R. Welk. Welk has been stone walling his victims for years. A week ago he filed a motion “that on January 21, 2013, at 8:30 a.m., plaintiff United States of America will present a Motion for the Entry of Default Judgment as to the remaining defendants before the Honorable David O. Carter, United States District Court, 411 West Fourth Street, Courtroom 9D, Santa Ana, California 92701.” It is basically the same motion Welk has been filing over and over for four years. To hear him in court is to understand that he committed all these accusations to memory long ago.
Welk argues that the victims of the government’s theft “were members and associates of” what he calls “The Mongols Criminal Gang.” He defines this “criminal gang” as “an organization engaged in, among other things, murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, narcotics trafficking, robbery, extortion, money laundering and witness intimidation. This organization, known as the ‘Mongols’ outlaw motorcycle gang, operated in the Central District of California, Southern District of California and elsewhere.” More than half of the 31-page motion reiterates and elaborates the same accusations the government made when the case began.
Justice would be served if the government simply gave back what it stole. Instead, Welk has spent years complicating the case and making it as difficult and expensive as possible for victims of this injustice to even protest their victimization. In a just America, government attorneys would seek truth and fairness. This is not, as many readers already understand, a just America. This is the America that is going broke. Simultaneously, this is the America that has become addicted to police and punishment. And, those addictions are a large part of the why and how of America going broke.
Billion – With a Bee
The extent to which the Department of Justice is itself a racket is illustrated by a press release Welk’s boss, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr., issued just three days after Welk filed his latest motion. The release leads with this unabashed brag: “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California collected more than $430 million as a result of criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits and asset forfeiture actions during the 2012 fiscal year….”
Birotte then states, “During the past five years, my office has collected well over one and a half billion dollars – money that has gone to the federal treasury and to victims of federal crimes…. Assistant U.S. Attorneys in this office have collected an average of nearly $318 million in each of these years, annually demonstrating their deep commitment to being fiscally responsible…. “
“Nationwide,” the release continues, “the United States Attorneys’ offices collected $13.1 billion in criminal and civil actions during FY2012, more than doubling the $6.5 billion collected the prior year. The $13.1 billion represents more than six times the appropriated budget of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s offices.”
Whether the Department of Justice should be more concerned with justice or with slandering uncharged citizens for profit might reasonably be a matter worth raising in political debate. But, the question was never raised in this election year. And, it is probably fair to guess that most Americans have no idea that this is how federal justice pays for itself.