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Some law enforcement agencies have become addicted to seizing drug money. This story found:</p> <p>*Police agencies are seizing bulk cash from drivers and alleging it's drug money without finding any drugs, or, in many cases, without ever filing criminal money laundering charges.</p> <p>* Underfunded, usually rural police and prosecutor's offices have become dependent on seizing suspected drug money to carry out the basic functions of their offices, a state of affairs specifically discouraged by federal asset forfeiture laws.</P> <p>* In the extreme, some corrupt police forces are setting up "forfeiture traps," reminiscent of small-town speed traps, to catch suspected drug couriers and take their currency, a practice some attorneys call "highway robbery"</p> <p>* Some sheriff's departments have become more interested in confiscating cash than drugs, i.d. working southbound lanes into Mexico -- "our piggybank," one South Texas sheriff told me -- where they're more likely to catch money couriers. The reporters also found that these departments are not interested in investigating the couriers as a way to disrupt cartel activities -- all they're interested in is seizing the cash.</p> <p>* With little oversight built into state or federal asset forfeiture laws, some prosecutors' office are misspending their seized drug funds on things like margarita machines for the annual picnic and soccer uniforms for the police soccer team.</p> <p>* More and more law enforcement agencies are taking advantage of the "piggy banks" on their highways. According to the US Justice Department, in the past four years seized assets tripled from $567 million to $1.6 billion.</p>
Columbia Daily Tribune examines the drug pipeline that runs through the Midwest; questions the use of drug courier profiles to justify searching vehicles for drugs during routine traffic stops.