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Americans for Forfeiture Reform Reports on Unrepentant Government Robbery from VA Church

Submitted by Thinking CAP on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 - 10:28 pm

Scott Alexander Meiner, Policy Analyst for Americans for Forfeiture Reform, recently reported on (and linked to more information about) yet another instance of our government desecrating the 10 Commandments (the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 10th commandments specifically), which many of them claim to be upholding (let alone the Founding Documents which they swore to uphold).

Piracy in Virginia

The Washington Post recently ran an editorial denouncing the treatment of Victor Ramos Guzman and the process by which Mr Guzman and the parishioners of his church, Nuevo Renacer, were relieved of their money by the Virginia State Police. We recommend the editorial but would like to add some commentary and a few clarifying details based on the accounts relayed to us.

On November 1st, Victor Ramos Guzman and Jose Jeronimo Sorto were driving a rental vehicle on Interstate 95. Their church had raised money to buy a trailer and a parcel of land. Guzman and Sorto were transporting $28,500 in church donations to make the purchases on behalf of Nuevo Renacer.

You can probably guess what happens next. In case you are not aware of it, “civil” asset forfeiture is yet another of the atrociously unconstitutional evils which has resulted from Drug War, Drug Prohibition. In a nutshell, the government takes whatever it wants because its officials say you got it due to something they claim is illegal, then you have to prove it’s not ill gotten gains.

If you are old enough to know better you should know that one of our society’s fundamental tenets is we are to be considered innocent until proven guilty, not merely accused guilty. Not the other way around, not guilty until proven innocent, and that should also apply to your stuff as well.

But given the enormously unsustainable high life many in government have granted themselves, and the even higher life many in the private sector have demanded they deserve, all that money to pay for it has to come from somewhere (since the printing presses are not running quickly enough apparently). So this is why so many law enforcement agencies and officers have turned into blood sucking parasites.

As with the rest of the racist Drug War, the darker your skin, the more likely you are to suffer from it. Certainly this is not a call to treat everyone in such an evil manner, it’s a call to end Prohibition and the multitude of gross evils it’s spawned.

Scott points out that although Victor and Jose, and everyone who donated to their church, has been treated so badly, they are fortunate to have the help of pro bono legal counsel, which hardly anyone can afford.

Most people are effectively precluded from fighting these seizures. Mr Guzman, Mr Sorto, and Nuevo Renacer have received pro bono counsel from Claudia Flower and David B. Smith. Smith is one of the top forfeiture attorneys in the country, a leading expert on forfeiture rules and practices, the former supervisor for forfeiture litigation in the US Attorneys Office, and the Chairman of the Forfeiture Committee in the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Flower is a committed advocate and a former DHS prosecutor. Our friends at the Institute for Justice have also joined the fight. Few victims of civil forfeiture have such attorneys at their disposal. Far fewer have such attorneys donate their services.

We raise their credentials not so much to praise (although that can and should be done) but to question: What shot does a normal person have without an accomplished pro bono legal team and an easily verifiable story? How bad have civil forfeiture practices become that the government isn’t sufficiently shamed (and scared) to return church donations seized without cause, when it can easily verify that the seized funds are church donations?

Too often, victims are left with the choice of either hiring prohibitively expensive counsel (after their funds have been seized… frequently starving them of access to effective counsel) or attempting to navigate the complex, uncertain forfeiture laws on their own. Uncertain because current practice is to share custody of forfeiture cases, vacillating between state and federal custody for convenience and gain. These custody vacillations make it easier for law enforcement to seize property, more difficult for you to defend your property, and make it more profitable for law enforcement to commit seizures (sometimes by explicitly circumventing state law).

Yet, even in light of all available proof and testimony, the Virginia police seem hellbent on maintaining their evil position.

Mr Guzman has an obvious and traceable path for the money, complete with collaborating parishioner testimony. Mr Guzman has signed an affidavit attesting to the source of the currency seized. The Nuevo Renacer church confirms the story. The parishioners confirm the story. They even have the donation envelopes to confirm the story. Yet, the government retains the money. If being able to verify the legitimate source of currency isn’t enough to accomplish the return of seized property, what is? How many people are having their possessions taken that can’t afford to fight the government, or are scared to do so, or estimate the fight as a pointless and unwinnable endeavor?


In the case of the church donations, there is no sustainable probable cause and the suspicion is easily refuted. There is no reason that the government still has the money. Yet, two months after the seizure, the government retains the money.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence. Billions of dollars are being seized and very few questions are being asked about what happens to the money or to the victims.

Someone going by ceanf decided to post a comment about Scott’s write up, just like anyone can post a comment on any piece around here:

so apparently officers from the state of Virginia are now not bound by the law prohibiting felony armed robbery. let us be clear, that IS what happened here. this pig robbed a CHURCH of $28,000 while possessing a handgun. i am no judge or lawyer, but that, my friends, is armed robbery plain and simple. it would be armed robbery if it were me or you, we can be absolutely sure of that. why are the state’s goons any different. CL Murphy belongs in jail along with the rest of the armed robbery felons.

If you haven’t seen FRONTLINE’s The Confessions then you need to. There seems to be something horribly wrong with law enforcement in Virginia.

Although it would be “nice” if it was limited to Virginia, it’s not. For some reason there is a horrible evil that has taken hold in police across the country. Far too many of the people who swear to uphold the Constitution, and serve and protect society, have become the worst offenders!

We must end prohibition today!