August 11, 2014 01:05AM
By Jesse Buchanan
Local police departments have seized cars and cash over the past few years through asset forfeiture, but seizures have been sporadic. Meriden and Southington have seized the most, each taking in tens of thousands of dollars police say was the proceeds of drug dealing.
Assets, such as cars, can also be seized if police show the vehicle was used in the commission of a criminal business. That means the vast majority of seizures are from those arrested for selling drugs.
“Most of our seizures come from narcotics-related arrests,” said Meriden Police Lt. Sal Nesci.
Earlier this year, John True was arrested and charged with a number of drug and weapons violations. His case is in pretrial and True has pleaded not guilty.
Meriden police have applied to the court to get $26,000 in cash that was seized from True, along with drugs and a Mercury Sable.
Christopher Malany, a supervisory assistant state’s attorney, said such requests are received by the Asset Forfeiture Bureau of the state Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. To keep the seized money or assets, police must show they were used in a criminal business. That’s almost entirely drug trafficking but at times can include cars or money seized from prostitution.
According to Malany, the average seizure in the state is $450. Despite the stereotype of drug dealers driving outfitted luxury cars, Malany said the cars seized are often old and have low resale values.
“The cars that drug dealers drive — by and large, at best they look decent,” he said.
Large seizures happen every couple of years for most towns, but departments aren’t making a lot from asset forfeiture. It’s not something that’s going to make a department rich, Malany said.
Meriden and Southington are also part of federal drug task forces and can receive portions of the money or assets seized in federal cases.
In 2013, the Meriden Police Department received $7,276 in cash and a 2002 Lexus GS300. In 2012 and 2011, the city received just a few hundred dollars from federal asset forfeiture.
Southington received $11,500 in cash from a local case in 2013 and $18,000 in cash from federal asset forfeiture in 2012. The seizure of $564 from 2011 is still pending in court.
Wallingford didn’t have any state or federal requests to keep seized property.
Cheshire has two pending applications for a total of $1,500 in cash.
Larger cases can net larger amounts of cash if a drug distributor, rather than street-level dealer, is arrested according to Nesci. The department has officers assigned to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration task force and the Connecticut Statewide Narcotics Task Force.
While not a major funding source, the asset forfeiture money does help the department, Nesci said.
“Any money that supplements our yearly budget is welcome,” he said.
Asset forfeiture money has been used to purchase downtown surveillance cameras, uniforms and bicycles.
Nesci said seizing cash isn’t the goal of investigations, though.
“We don’t go out hoping to seize people’s property,” he said.
Southington Police Chief Jack Daly, a former president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said police seizures tend to be cash since other assets can be difficult to sell.
Several years ago, two houses were seized after they were used as drug factories. Daly said the houses had mortgages but the department was able to settle with the bank and got some money for the houses.
Cars or houses can sometimes have more owed on them than they’re worth, Daly said.
The department must also prove to the court the asset was used for an illegal enterprise.
“It’s not just ‘we take whatever we want,’ ” Daly said.
Forfeiture money funded the purchase of Southington’s two police dogs, Lou and Arno. Money seized is supposed to go toward crime fighting, Daly said.