As reported, on January 1, 2017, the Phelps County Sheriff's office reported a beginning balance of $2.89 million of federal forfeiture funds, and during the course of 2017 they received an additional $1.12 million of federal forfeitures-- their share of the funds they previously seized and turned over to the federal government-- and reported a balance of $3.26 million, after expenses, at the end of 2017, according to according to Compilation of 2017 Federal Forfeiture Reports, State Auditor Nicole Galloway published in March 2018.
Phelps County Commissioners continue to discuss the various sources of the forfeited funds in the county in response to different stances on the Federal Justice Department’s reversal of the Obama administration’s limits on civil forfeiture in July 2017. A reversal that revived a program known as “adoptive forfeiture,” that allows local state law enforcement to process cases under the federal statute and share the assets with the federal authorities.
“We are number one in the state in asset forfeiture,” stated District 1 Commissioner Larry Stratman. “Some people hold that the asset forfeitures are taking good money away from really nice people who are using them for good purposes -- when that is not the case.”
Instead, Stratman showed the other side to the discussion on asset forfeitures in Phelps County where it’s typical to find money associated with the high percentage of drugs trafficked through Phelps County on I-44 and US-63.
“The money is always there for the owner of the money to come back, but it takes so long to get it back from the federal government because they hold it for so long waiting for the owner to show up and claim it,” stated Stratman. “The drug dealers are not coming up here to claim the money, so what do you do with the money?”
The question raised correlates to the fact that the average person isn’t carrying $300 or $400 in cash in their car wrapped in saran wrap in the gas tank, which has occurred in Phelps County multiple times, as well as other scenarios that were unexpected.
“We had a truck one time they caught out there that was a utility truck with two floors 6 in. apart both metal, front to back, side to side, and they were stuffed full of drugs between those two floors,” stated Presiding Commissioner Randy Verkamp.
In Phelps County, it is typical to find money in drug-related crimes where the person driving the car goes to jail not truly knowing anything about the money, according to Stratman.
“I guess the problem is that Missouri has an asset forfeiture law that makes it much more difficult to attach to the private property and the claim is that local law enforcement is circumventing the law by turning the property over to the federal government,” stated District 2 Commissioner Gary Hicks.
In any event, asset forfeitures continue to be a controversial issue across the country.