Washington Examiner: Cause of Action challenges attorney general’s official property seizure reform

Read the full story: Washington Examiner

Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that a recent order would significantly reform property seizures is being disputed by a transparency advocacy group in a letter to a government watchdog.

Administrative forfeitures are increasing exponentially, and are the most popular form of seizure by a wide margin, said Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein in a letter to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

This type of seizure allows the government to claim property, including an unlimited amount of money, vehicles of unlimited value or property worth up to $500,000 a legal conviction, according to Cause of Action.

The nonprofit found that from 2001 to 2011, 70 percent of all seized assets fell under administrative forfeitures.

Cause of Action Calls on DOJ IG to Audit Forfeiture Programs

Attorney General Eric Holder’s asset forfeiture order applies to civil and criminal forfeiture. It does not, however, apply to administrative forfeiture, which generally allows law enforcement authorities to claim uncontested property without any judicial involvement. Such property can include currency of unlimited value, vehicles of unlimited value or other property with a value of up to $500,000.

After Cause of Action filed a FOIA request back in 2012, the Department of Justice notified us that administrative forfeitures are increasing exponentially, and are the most popular form of seizure by a wide margin. Following up on that, we found that from 2001-2011, 70 percent of all seized assets were processed as administrative forfeitures. That, according to a report done by a Justice Department IG. There is little reason to think the numbers for the last two years are any different.

In addition, Holder’s order is limited to adoptions, but public records show that these are the least-used method of asset forfeiture in DoJ’s asset forfeiture program. According to GAO, adoptions made up only about 17 percent of all equitable sharing payments as recently as 2010.

Our findings show that if this administration is serious about attempting such reform, the recently announced policy changes fall far short of the mark. The bottom line is that any serious effort to limit or end the practice of federal adoption of state and local seizures must include administrative forfeitures, which constitute the vast majority of such seizures.

Cause of Action Calls on DOJ IG to Audit Forfeiture Programs by Cause of Action

Roll Call: Et tu, DOJ? Will Loretta Lynch Ignore IRS Fraud as AG as She Did in Her Own Backyard?

Et tu, DOJ? Will Loretta Lynch Ignore IRS Fraud as AG as She Did in Her Own Backyard?

By Dan Epstein

Nov. 26, 2014, 5 a.m.

On November 7, 2011, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent a letter to Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch echoing his concerns about a former ACORN group, “New York Communities for Change” and its alleged “fraud through its participation in the Occupy Wall Street protests.” Issa asked Lynch to investigate potential fraud by the progressive nonprofit group. Lynch, to date, has failed to take action.

Lynch has a history of failing to investigate progressive-leaning nonprofit groups.

In 2013, U.S. Attorney Lynch testified before the Moreland Commission — set up by Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate corruption — detailing her successful prosecution of several corrupt New York public officials. Despite numerous allegations in the press about fraud relating to Representative Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., and connected nonprofits, Meeks was never indicted even though at least one of these nonprofits was subpoenaed by Lynch’s office and Rep. Meeks was subject to a House Ethics investigation. Lynch has, however, successfully indicted Republican Rep. Michael G. Grimm.

Since 2009, Congressman Issa led the congressional investigation into ACORN. Bertha Lewis, who rose to become ACORN’s President, had her office at 24 Nevins Street in Brooklyn, New York, which was also home to ACORN Housing Corporation, Mutual Housing Association of New York, and the Working Families Party — all affiliates of ACORN and all eventually defunded by the federal government after numerous federal Inspector General and congressional investigations. Today, New York Communities for Change is housed at 24 Nevins Street.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was roundly criticized for firing U.S. Attorneys who refused to investigate allegations of fraud by groups like ACORN — an issue that hastened his resignation. Now, it appears we’re honoring that legacy by promoting a lawyer who ignored clear evidence of misconduct that occurred under her watch. At least we know what we’re getting in America’s next top law enforcement official.

Dan Epstein is executive director of Cause of Action, a nonpartisan nonprofit government oversight group.

FOIA Documents: DOJ Assett Forfeitures

FOIA Request (July 2, 2012)
Production (August 6, 2012)


LIBRE Joins Litigation Regarding “Operation Choke Point”

LIBRE Joins Litigation Regarding “Operation Choke Point”
Obama Administration Abuses Regulatory Regime

(Washington, D.C.) – Today the LIBRE Initiative Institute (LIBRE) filed an amicus brief in support of the Community Financial Services Association of America v. FDIC challenge to the administration’s Operation Choke Point (Choke Point). LIBRE filed the brief – which was written by the nonprofit government oversight group Cause of Action – arguing that the government abused its power and conducted Choke Point without transparency or accountability and without accounting for the Collateral damage that it has done to Hispanic businesses, their customers, or the communities they serve.  Choke Point is an initiative quietly organized and implemented by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other agencies. Banks and other financial institutions have been investigated and pressed to cut off financing to a range of businesses that the administration believes to be acting against public Interest . These include legal activities such as payday loans, tobacco, ammunition, fireworks, and many others.

This operation has received little public scrutiny, and was not publicly debated or analyzed for its impact on the targeted businesses, their customers or the broader economy. Questions have been raised regarding the administration’s decision to target a broad range of legal activities – rather than concentrating taxpayer dollars on fighting crime. Additionally, many of the businesses hurt by the operation provide access to Capital and services of particular value in the Latino community. This unilateral action has forced many enterprises to close – with a disproportionate impact on jobs and services in Latino communities nationwide. It is wrong for the administration to crack down on completely legal commercial activity – stripping consumers of market choice – through agency pressure applied to financial institutions rather than an open and transparent process.

Read the brief here.

 Jorge Lima, Policy Director of The LIBRE Initiative Institute released the following statement:

President Obama continues to use unilateral executive action to push forward on a flawed policy agenda that is hurting the Latino community more than it’s helping. Wages are down and jobs are hard to find – but we continue to see the same policy prescriptions that have failed in the past. Now the administration is using its power to undermine industries that it deems detrimental, while ignoring the fact that it is unfairly punishing business owners and infringing upon the private prerogative of banks to evaluate business according to their models – ultimately limiting the choices available to individuals.

The federal government should stop trying to arbitrarily undercut or shut down businesses it doesn’t like, and allow for an open debate, with proper opportunity for comment and analysis, rather than wielding administrative power. We have seen what happens when there is no discussion of proposed policy alternatives with the unintended consequences of Obamacare. The president and his administration shouldn’t be so eager to repeat the same mistakes.

For interviews with a LIBRE representative, please contact: Brian Faughnan, 703-650-1100 or Steven Cruz, 703-650-1100.

Daily Caller: After Holder: Four Things The Next Attorney General Must Address

Read Dan Epstein’s op-ed in the Daily Caller here.

Attorney General Eric Holder may be heading for the exit door at the Department of Justice (DOJ), but numerous gaps in the agency’s enforcement remain. Will the next attorney general address fraud, transparency, and oversight concerns? We recommend four issues the next attorney general can and should resolve.

Transparency: Eric Holder’s Department of Justice declared its dedication to transparency and openness, going so far as to issue a memo to all agency heads on the Freedom of Information Act, declaring, “In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” In practice, however, this is perhaps the most secretive DOJ on record. The Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbeesays the transparency of the Obama administration “is significantly worse than previous administrations.”

Cause of Action, a government oversight organization of which I am executive director, found that improper White House review of FOIA requests violated both the letter and spirit of FOIA. We are now suing the Department of Justice for allowing the White House to obstruct the processing of FOIA requests — an integral part of open and transparent government. The next attorney general should enforce Eric Holder’s promise of a bias toward disclosure, by taking decision-making about FOIA productions away from the White House and placing it back in agencies where it belongs.

IRS Political Targeting: Americans have known for over a year about the Internal Revenue Service’s political targeting of non-profit groups. Cause of Action first petitioned DOJ to look into this scandal in May 2013. While an investigation has begun, the DOJ assigned an attorney from the Civil Rights Division (CRD), which mostly prosecutes hate crimes cases and conspiracies to violate civil rights, to investigate the IRS. If criminal violations are uncovered in the investigation, the CRD may not have the authority to handle them, given its jurisdiction. That is why the next attorney general should appoint a special counsel to direct the investigation.

Lois Lerner’s Emails: Perhaps the most confounding part of the IRS scandal is the somehow “lost” emails of Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the heart of the scandal. Cause of Action’s investigation indicates that in losing this valuable information, multiple government officials violated the Federal Records Act, which instructs agencies to create their own regulations regarding document retention. IRS regulations, for instance, required Ms. Lerner to print and file her emails and her attachments. By failing to preserve Lerner’s records, the IRS may have violated its own regulations — and therefore the Federal Records Act.

To this day, the Department of Justice refuses to investigate this potential violation of law, so we urge the next attorney general to conduct an investigation to determine if there has been a violation of the Federal Records Act.

The Chicago Transit Authority: In 2012, Cause of Action provided the Department of Justice with evidence of up to $150 million in rampant fraud at the Chicago Transit Authority, a government entity with close ties to the current administration. As we noted at the time, DOJ has a duty to deal with this issue — the agency has the power to intervene on behalf of other federal agencies to recover misspent taxpayer dollars using the False Claims Act. DOJ declined to take up the case. Cause of Action is continuing to pursue this fraud lawsuit against the CTA because American taxpayers deserve accountability. The next attorney general should intervene in False Claims Act litigation even if they may be politically unfavorable.

We hope the next Attorney General resolves these four issues.  Attorneys in the Department of Justice have a saying: “Do Justice.” Four simple steps would allow the next AG to ensure justice is done.

Dan Epstein is the Executive Director of Cause of Action.

Lessons for the Next Attorney General

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is resigning after five-and-a-half years in the Obama administration. Despite Cause of Action raising the following concerns to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during Attorney General Holder’s tenure, here are four DOJ failures that Cause of Action hopes the next Attorney General would ensure the agency corrects:

  1. Cause of Action asked DOJ to take the claims of IRS targeting seriously, but the available evidence suggests a failure to conduct a full and fair investigation.
  2. The IRS appears to have violated the Federal Records Act (and possibly other laws) by losing or deleting Lois Lerner’s emails, but DOJ has given no indication that it will investigate the email destruction in any meaningful way.
  3. Cause of Action provided DOJ with evidence of up to $150 million in fraud at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in May 2012.  When given the opportunity to intervene and recover taxpayer dollars under the False Claims Act, DOJ declined.  Cause of Action is continuing to pursue this fraud lawsuit against the CTA because American taxpayers deserve accountability.  DOJ retains the ability to intervene, despite its initial failure to do so.
  4. On March 19, 2009, AG Holder issued a memo on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) stating: “In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”  Despite this proclamation, Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee says the transparency of the Obama administration “is significantly worse than previous administrations.”  Cause of Action’s own investigation found that improper White House review of FOIA requests violated both the letter and spirit of FOIA. In fact, DOJ is one of twelve agencies Cause of Action is suing for allowing the White House to obstruct the processing of FOIA requests.