Des Moines Register Suggests Iowa Asset Forfeiture System Is A ‘System of Legal Thievery’

In a recent investigation into the asset forfeiture laws of Iowa and how they are being applied, the Des Moines Register has uncovered some very disturbing facts. These are some of the Registers findings:

• Law enforcement agencies in all but seven of Iowa’s 99 counties have used the state’s civil forfeiture law since 2009. They have seized cash or other property 5,265 times. At least 542 more cases have used federal forfeiture laws.

• Many of those property owners — including Sanchez-Ratliff (see video below) — are sent on their way after surrendering their cash or other property. A sampling of about 600 forfeiture cases from the Iowa counties that seized the most property over the past six years revealed dozens of instances with no record of an arrest or criminal charges.

• Iowa police departments and other law enforcement agencies have seized nearly $43 million over the past six years — money divided among agencies involved in each forfeiture case. Under law, the money is supposed to be used to “enhance” their crime-fighting capabilities.

• Most of the money is used to buy equipment, train officers and fund multi-agency task forces. But it also has been spent on tropical fish, scented candles, mulch and other items that appear to have little or no direct link to law enforcement activities.

The Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia did a nationwide study and concluded that Iowa had one of the worst systems in the country for protecting innocent people against asset seizures. To make things worse, it has become nearly impossible to retrieve one’s seized property, even if the person whose property was taken is never charged with a crime. The legal system is an expensive process which nearly ensures that the average citizen, especially those who have had their savings seized by law enforcement, is unable to fight this monstrosity in Iowa’s broken justice system.

Proponents of the forfeiture laws claim that it is a powerful legal tool for fighting crime or crippling known criminals whom law enforcement cannot pin reasonable charges on. This is not law enforcement. This is a cat and mouse game created by a too-big to fail mafioso that extorts citizens in order to continue its unjust, immoral, and unconstitutional activities against the citizenry. There is no legal wrangling or jiggery-pokery so infuse that it can hide the fact that this system is indeed one of legal thievery.

Theft (n):

  • the act of stealing; the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another; larceny. (
  • the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. (

Asset Forfeiture in Iowa and Nationwide


National, local and state forfeitures have all begun coming under more and more scrutiny as police misconduct continues to make national headlines and the system of policing for profit is becoming understood as a key factor in out-of-control law enforcement agencies across the country. It happens in New York and Iowa. It happens in big cities, small towns, country highways, and everywhere else police have turned their attention to profit and job security rather than public safety and protection. And the problem has been recognized in every political arena from Conservatives to Liberals to Liberty-Minded Independent Media.

Forfeiture violations cannot be ignored by any ideological class. The moral and ethical implications as well as the legal and constitutional ones are of concern to all peoples. Even those who worship at the altar of law and it’s enforcers must see that this theft is incompatible with a just legal system by and for the people. Asset forfeiture is nothing more than common thuggery. Armed jackboots committing theft against those who have less power than them simply because they can. Not because they have the moral or ethical right, but merely because they have the greater amount of force with fewer scruples to prevent them from such atrocious and barbaric behavior. Yes, Des Moines Register, it is indeed a ‘System of Legal Thievery’.

  • Iowa law enforcement agencies collected nearly $43 million from at least 5,807 forfeitures since 2009, the bulk of that from motorists stopped for minor traffic violations.
  • A sampling of about 600 cases from six Iowa counties that are among the most active in seizing cash and other property showed dozens of examples in which no record could be found of an arrest or criminal charge. Authorities took substantial amounts of cash or other property based on the belief it was linked to criminal activity.
  • Iowa’s civil forfeiture statutes allow law enforcement agencies to keep or split nearly all of the proceeds they seize, generating millions of dollars to be used by local police and prosecutors.
  • The appeal system is complex and often costly, placing the burden on property owners to prove in a civil court that their possessions are not connected to crime. (That contrasts with criminal cases, where the state bears the burden of proving guilt.) Attorneys are often reluctant to take such cases or demand payment up front because the threshold for winning is stacked in favor of police and prosecutors.
  • Iowa law enforcement officials have occasionally used the proceeds in questionable ways, including paying for tropical fish, scented candles, water and sewer bills, and other items that appear to have little or no direct link to law enforcement activities, as state rules require.
  • Police sometimes fail to document the items they seize. Iowa law does not specify procedures agencies must use to collect or inventory seized property. Some property owners accuse officers of skimming off cash.

Read more of the Des Moines Registers investigation and story:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

And check out the video below of Michael Sanchez-Ratliff whose life was nearly ruined by a badged bully in Pottawattamie County, Iowa who decided to steal his life savings for the suspicious crime of traveling five miles per hour over the speed limit.


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Alia Atreides

Hi, my name is Trevor. Thanks for reading!

  • t

    Hey…at least you didn’t use the CATO institute as a source. This group isn’t much better…but at least it isn’t Cato.

    As for the video sob story….
    Hmmmm. Young guy. Chicago bound for Cali Tom”visit”. 10 grand. Hmm. Yeah I see why you guys don’t think that’s suspicious at all.

  • corkie

    Yeah, t, and we all know that you think that justifies stealing from him. It’s obvious that you like lame asset forfeitures like this. Sorry, you shouldn’t be allow to take someone’s money just because you suspect he might do something illegal with it. The media, legislatures, courts, and public are waking up to your buddies’ scams.

  • t

    I do know quite a bit about assets forfeiture. Been involved in LOTS of it.
    And I’ve been at LOTS of the hearings.
    Most folks never show. Because they know that they can’t prove that they made that money legally.
    And unlike what many of the alleged horror stories on this site have claimed (not saying that in their specific case things weren’t harder) I ve seen people easily get their money back.

    But as a low brow kinda guy…I know you can’t think in the abstract..
    But let’s say this guy was on his way to avail to get him a quarter kilo of cocaine. Is it not better that the dope never got to Chicago in the first place than trying to get it after it’s already there?
    Now….I can go to a spot tomorrow morning where I know there will be at least a couple of guys that can probably pull that much moeny of their overalls. And they’ll be there everyday. But there’s a difference. They live….right there. They own the property….right there. They work….right.
    Your guy….young dude that owns nothing but rolls around with 10 grand in a backpack while riding with his bud to California…just to visit friends.
    Now if his money is legit….show up with a bank record. Show up with some paycheck and expense records. I’m betting he can’t.

    Now….you can be a dope lover all you like. But I don’t have to be. And you your choice to commit your crimes on a public road….makes it my business.

  • Pw4x3r

    “your choice to commit your crimes on a public road….makes it my business.” Where’s the crime? You must be seriously confused about this one…. You start getting in this pre-crime mentality, you better just go kill yourself cuz you aren’t worth the air you’re breathing.

  • Joshua Scott Hotchkin

    Typical Liberal Bullshit

  • Joshua Scott Hotchkin

    Why don’t you throw a “for the children” in there for the full mommy safety state speech.

  • Yankeefan

    Why should people have to prove they made it legally? The Washington Post (I believe it was the Post) did a study examining 41k seizures going back to 2008 and in only 19% of the cases were the police able to sustain PC. That means in 81% of the cases, no charges or indictments were issued.

    I mean, look at this comment you made. You want someone to prove they made it legally when in most cases, you cant sustain that very low standard of PC to even issue a charge or indictment. This issue has been getting a lot of press for good reasons.

    This comment:

    Now if his money is legit….show up with a bank record. Show up with some paycheck and expense records. I’m betting he can’t.

    This is appalling when I bet in most cases, you can’t show up with charges to justify the seizure. I am not against drug monies being seized but when you assume it is and force them to prove something when the laws are structured in a way where you NEVER have to charge or indict, innocent people are bound to get caught up. I could start a blog dedicated to those cases. I don’t blame you, I blame the system for creating something this ridiculous.

  • RAD

    He has to steal your money on a hunch that you might want to buy cocaine later. Because he imagined it. When you harness the magic power of statedidit, you can rationalize almost anything.

  • RAD

    Have you ever seen the funny math he uses to formulate “probable cause”? Yeah, they have enough probable cause to take the money, but not enough probable cause to charge anything. Kind of goes to show probable cause is pseudo-scientific terminology that really doesn’t mean anything objective anyway.

  • RAD

    1. So you think the police had the right to take his money?
    2. Would any regular citizen have the right to take it?
    Why/why not?

  • Yankeefan

    Here is the thing. If the police had to establish PC and issue charges/indictments in order to seize the cash, they would be returning a lot of cash right away. They would never allow for such a standard as it would require them to return the cash once an acquittal happened. The story I mentioned was linked to drudgereport and it was an interesting read. In only 19% of the cases could the police articulate what crime may have occurred to justify the seizure of the monies.
    I could live with a seizure under charges/indictments but if its an acquittal, it is returned ASAP. But, look what we get. You need to prove you earned it legally. That to me is appalling.

  • corkie

    I do know quite a bit about assets forfeiture. Been involved in LOTS of it.

    I have no doubt about that, t. I’m sure you’re big into asset forfeiture. You seem to enjoying violating civil rights. Well, your time enjoying asset forfeiture might soon be up.

    Now if his money is legit….show up with a bank record. Show up with some paycheck and expense records. I’m betting he can’t.

    Guilty until proven innocent, right, t? Why should he need to prove that he didn’t commit a crime? You’re screwed up, t.

  • RAD

    In order to take the money, they usually have to file an affidavit claiming facts to establish PC or at least they’re supposed to have PC. That’s the discrepancy – how do they have PC to take the money without PC to arrest? Either they have PC or they don’t if PC is some objective quantum of evidence. But it’s not. It’s pseudoscience.

  • t

    There are banking regulations about carrying that kinda of money.
    So…..guilty and guilty.

    That’s doesn’t mean he can’t
    Get his money back. It’s not forfeited….it’s just seized…as evidence. It’s not different. Than a bloody glove or knife. It’s wvidence that has been seized.

    So basically….it’s
    Proven innocent
    It’s evidence ofa possible crime that has been collected while the investigation goes on.

  • JC

    The PD takes drug money, vehicles, boats, ect… that was used to commit crimes. Don’t commit those types of crimes and you won’t have any problems.

    You are free to choose what path you want to take. But you are not free from the consequences of your choice.

  • t

    How do you seize money that has been used in a crime? The only use for money is spending it, and once it’s spent, it’s gone.

  • JCeatsdick

    JC, me and like nine black dudes fuck your mother on the reg!

  • Tim

    You are an idiot, there are ZERO banking regulations to how much cash an individual can carry.

    There are requirements to report cash deposits totaling 10k or the appearance of an person depositing and trying to circumvent the reporting of deposits totaling 10k.

    Stop resisting logic you pin head.

  • t

    PC of a crime? They aren’t being arrested !!!

    And the money isn’t forfeited….it’s seized. Meaning that they can relatively easily get it back.

    In the overwhelming amount of cases… one every shows up at the hearing. Why? Because they have that money…for an illegal purpose. And they simply walk awayngr it.

    And that’s the point
    If you are naive enough to think that this guy just walks around everyday with 10 grand in his backpack…go ahead.

    But he’s not being charged with a crime yet.
    Becuase this is just a single component.
    I used the example elsewhere that this is like any evidence. It’s siezed. It’s not forgotten.

  • t


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  • Tim

    Ok, you settled that. Thanks for clarifying. Pfft

  • whoopsydoodoo

    Then as soon as the investigation is completed, the evidence should be returned to the owner. If it isn’t returned, then it becomes stolen property

  • Ernie Menard

    There are no ‘banking regulations’ concerning how much cash a citizen can carry. How stupid can a man be?

  • Yankeefan

    Lets address this WOW.

    I think this article by the New Yorker sums it up nicely. Lets start with one excerpt:

    In 2011, he reports, fifty-eight local, county, and statewide police forces in Georgia brought in $2.76 million in forfeitures; more than half the items taken were worth less than six hundred and fifty dollars. With minimal oversight, police can then spend nearly all those proceeds, often without reporting where the money has gone.

    Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.

    No wonder they don’t go to fight the case! Who wants to rack up lawyer fees over 650 bucks. The sad part about this logic you presented is you engage in supposition they arte not fighting it because they are criminals ignoring the possibility, fact if I may dare that ordinary people are smart enough to make a business decision while, at the same time defending lawsuit settlements as a business decision and nothing more. Writing a check for 750k?No biggie. Never mind the facts of the case.

    Let me add this. I did not say anything about this case but if you want to believe everyone/anyone who has any decent sum of cash is a drug dealer, you go ahead. The crux of what I stated is true. I do admit I was wrong on one point. You are not using PC to seize the cash. You are using the “you have a large sum and can’t tell me where it came from so I am going to take it and force you into a system that favours me” legal standard.

    I want drugs off the street but as this article I will link indicates, the author, after interviewing 100 people ranging from police to lawyers on both sides and judges, believe that these laws you embrace are hurting regular folks folks and not the big time guys. Here is the link. Read it all then come back and tell me how wrong I am!

    By the way, I know a few people that carry a few k in their pockets. One of them is my grandfather who would take 2-3 bow hunting trips to Idaho and would carry between 8-12k, all earned legit. Maybe where you are from, that is odd but not to me and most people I know!

  • corkie

    There are banking regulations about carrying that kinda of money.

    LOL! No there aren’t, Idiot. It’s perfectly legal to operate a cash business and not use a bank. The bank regs relate to deposit/withdrawal amounts/patterns. I’m not surprised that you would claim expertise about something that you obviously don’t know anything about.

    It’s evidence ofa possible crime that has been collected while the investigation goes on.

    Evidence of a POSSIBLE crime is not PROBABLE cause. You’re an idiot.

  • keepitreal

    No. he’s not wrong, you fucking liar. The regulations you are trying to bullshit about involve banks reporting transactions over a certain dollar amount. And it doesn’t make such transactions illegal, just requires that they be reported to the IRS.

  • keepitreal

    Don’t bother arguing with this lying fuckwad. He’ll just spew more shit. And goes on and on about how he’s “always right”.

  • Yankeefan

    Let me add a couple more things. Maybe I am overly cynical! Then again, maybe my response is reasonable. I do agree with you in how you described it. That is the very point I am making. Monies being seized with no real legal standard and having it put into a system that places the burden on the person who lost their property. It becomes worse than ice skating up hill. But expecting me to believe the police are doing a bang up job of ensuring only illegal gained monies are seized is laughable. The very people you would have me believe are the same ones that are and have ben using STINGRAY with explicit instructions from the FBI to drop cases instead of answering lawmakers or even judges questions in order to protect this technology.

    Look at the rationale! We can’t let bad guys know whats up so lets use this technology without judicial approval. Which is what YOUR profession is doing this day and has been doing years on end. And you want me to believe, T, that cops are really using discretion on asset forfeiture? There is a reason this issue is getting A LOT of attention in the news.

    I guess what I am saying is the seizures should not have taken place to begin with.

  • Yankeefan

    I like talking to T and have agreed with him on many a topics. I get a good debate with T. In this case, talking about asset forfeiture, this is unconscionable. Monies being seized on supposition only. This has become a big business for law enforcement. I encourage you to read my New Yorker article I linked. It is interesting.
    As I have stated above, I have become very cynical about our so called law enforcers. Look at the use of STINGRAY. The FBI is actually telling agencies, after they sign a non disclosure agreement, to drop cases if questioned by judges or legislators. I thought cops had to have court approval. This has been going on for a few years now. Totally unacceptable.
    If t and Common Sense and others were to have police treat them or their families like what took place in boston with door to door searches ordering citizens out of their homes to search it sans warrant, seize their 1500 dollars in cash because some dog sniffed it and alerted, they would be the first to sing out loud about this type of law enforcement. In other words, if it were left up to the police, is there any doubt where our rights would be for our own safety and security. We have to subjugate you to keep you safe.
    P.S. There was one story of the Sheriff’s department that would accept only cash for bail and when folks came in to pay, their dog would sniff it and they would seize it as drug monies. How nice huh?

  • g2reason

    Don’t give a rats ass if it’s suspicious. Take the guy to court and prove a crime, or give him his property back!

    You know, that due process thing in the constitution.

  • g2reason

    Or, we could follow the constitution and prove a crime before we take citizens property?

    This is the sort of thing that foments revoloution ( this and sham trials for murders by LEO – intrestingly, sham trials for british soldiers accused of murder was listed in the decleration of independance as a one reason for the revolution)

  • g2reason

    “PC of a crime, they aren’t being arrested”

    No, and they are not being charged – the government is just taking peoples money until they prove that they have not committed a crime…. lol, that’s the America Jefferson, Adams and company wanted…. my god man.

  • g2reason

    They take whatever they want apparently, and the citizen has to prove no crime, now that’s justice tyrant style!

  • g2reason

    No such banking regulation.
    Customes regulations, yes – when crossing borders.

  • g2reason

    IDK – how do you sieze money that has not been used in a crime? Theft?

  • g2reason

    Ah…. site the reg please, or be a man and admin you got called on BS.

  • g2reason

    “So basically….it’sNotGuiltyUntilProven innocent It’s evidence ofa possible crime that has been collected while the investigation goes on.”

    First off the law is “innocent until proven guilty” not that communist BS, you said.
    Second, if what you said is true – they would be giving the money back as soon as the investigation is over and no charges are filed – but they don’t do they? No they split it like alibaba and the 40 thieves.

  • Gratis Banks

    Cato is an amazing resource. What is wrong with CATO? You don’t like facts?

  • Gratis Banks

    It took 1 year to get the money back dummy. He had to hire attorneys and go to a state he didn’t live in.

  • Gratis Banks

    80-90% of the money seized is from people who aren’t even arrested for a crime.

  • g2reason

    I could give less of a $hit what those moron, bath robe wearing judges think – the constitution is clear (for lay people) in 2 separate amendments: You can’t take someone’s life, liberty, or property without due process.

    Due process is not – the government takes your property and you have to prove your innocence to get it back; the government needs to prove a crime AND THEN take your property.

    The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:
    Nor shall any person . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .

    Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:
    Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . .

    We have slipped into tyranny.

  • JC

    Please post a scientific link that backs up your statement.

  • Keith

    The property is basically being accused of being used for or received from illegal activity. When it is a person it is innocent until proven guilty. Property does not have rights like people so the property is guilty until proven innocent. The person whose property it is much prove the property is innocent.

    They just figured out a way to turn it around back onto who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty to get the property back.

    I do see where it could be suspicious at times like your one example. I would much rather if the person was on his way to pick up a kilo of drugs, as well as the person selling him the drugs in jail. The way it is now, it is oh wow, they might possibly happen, so take the money and let them continue doing what they was doing once the money is replaced. It leads to free money for LE, and if it was going to be used in a crime, the crime gets to continue. Now how is that supposed to make it safer? That 10k in money will never be able to do anything to anyone as an inanimate object, the person with the 10k CAN.

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