In 1991, Maui police officers showed up at the home of Frances and Joseph Lopes.
One officer showed his badge and said, “Let’s go into the house, and we will explain things to you.”
Once he was inside, the explanation was simple: “We’re taking the house.”
The Lopses were far from wealthy. They worked on a sugar plantation for nearly fifty years, living in camp housing, to save up enough money to buy a modest, middle-class home. But in 1987, their son Thomas was caught with marijuana. He was twenty-eight, and he suffered from mental health issues. He grew the marijuana in the backyard of his parents’ home, but every time they tried to cut it down, Thomas threatened suicide. When he was arrested, he pled guilty, was given probation since it was his first offense, and he was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. Frances and Joseph were elated. Their son got better, he stopped smoking marijuana, and the episode was behind them.
But when the police showed up and told them that their house was being seized, they learned that the episode was not behind them. That statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture was five years. It had only been four. Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate.
Asset forfeiture laws once applied only to goods that could be considered a danger to society – illegal alcohol, weapons, etc. But with the birth of the modern war on drugs, lawmakers pushed for something with more teeth, which they achieved with the 1970 passage of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Although many are familiar with the story of the steady expansion of civil asset forfeiture laws, many overlook the fact that presidential candidate Joe Biden helped put these laws on previously apathetic law enforcement agents’ radar and, worse, played a significant role in broadening their application. Biden has effectively aided and abetted the police state’s sustained assault on American subjects’ property rights.
Expanding Asset Forfeiture, Phase I: The RICO Act of 1970
In 1970, the targets of asset forfeiture were wealthy crime bosses. It was prosecutor G. Robert Blakey, who had worked under Attorney General Robert Kennedy and various congressmen, who set about broadening its scope. He helped draft a bill for a new legal concept, “criminal forfeiture,” which would allow police to seize the illegally acquired profits of a convicted criminal.