Federal criminal forfeiture: What you need to know

Federal criminal forfeiture: What you need to know

Did you know that if you are convicted of a federal offense that you stand to lose more than your freedom? Using a process known as criminal forfeiture, the government can seize certain assets and property after and, in some instances, before your conviction.

Criminal vs. civil forfeiture

Criminal forfeiture is part of an overall criminal prosecution proceeding. It requires that in addition to the defendant, the government indict the property that either

  •      Was used to commit the crime, or was
  •      Derived from criminal activity, such as financial gain

Upon conviction, you are required to forfeit these assets to the government. Criminal forfeiture differs from civil judicial forfeiture in that a conviction is required before the government can seize the property. For this reason, criminal forfeiture is an in personam (against the person) action as opposed to an in rem (against the property) proceeding. Its purpose is to deter and punish those who steal from and/or exploit people for financial gain, such as drug dealers, white-collar criminals, organized crime groups and terrorists.

One recent case is that of Dr. Farid Fata, a Detroit doctor who was sentenced to 45 years in prison for participating in widespread healthcare fraud. Millions of dollars of his assets were seized, including real estate, a car, business entities, and bank accounts. Between 2002 and 2015 alone, the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Program has used over $4 billion in seized property to deliver some form of restitution to applicable crime victims.

Criminal forfeiture crimes

At one time, forfeiture actions were exclusively judicial in scope. That changed when the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 were established to battle organized crime and the drug trade respectively. Today, the crimes that include possible criminal forfeiture as a penalty include:

  •      Drug trafficking
  •      Money laundering
  •      Violation of the Patriot Act
  •      Obscenity crimes

A conviction for one or more of these crimes may not only affect you. If your spouse, another family member, or a business partner has an interest in any of the seized property, they will also face a significant loss. In the event that the proceeds of your alleged crime are no longer available for seizure, the government is empowered to take substitute assets instead. Not even the Homestead laws, which normally shield your home from creditors, can prevent it from being forfeited.

Because federal criminal forfeiture is a complicated legal process with severe consequences, it is important to hire a New York City criminal defense attorney with a firm understanding of how criminal and forfeiture law interacts in white-collar cases. The government is required to take certain steps before your property can be seized, and an experienced attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected at all stages. Call the Law Offices of Julie Rendelman, LLC if you have any questions regarding a case that may involve asset forfeiture at 212-951-1232. Ms. Rendelman is a highly experienced attorney who offers free consultations and knows what is at stake for her clients. Visit her office on the web at www.RendelmanLaw.com.