EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the OIG Report:
During law enforcement operations, state and local law enforcement agencies often seize assets and proceeds from assets linked to criminal activity. The purpose of the seizures typically is to ensure that criminal organizations and individuals do not benefit from illegal activities. State and local law enforcement agencies may seek to have such assets forfeited under state law or, alternatively, agencies may transfer the seized assets to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or another component of the Department of Justice (DOJ or the Department) for forfeiture under federal law through the Department’s Asset Forfeiture Program. Transferred seizures are referred to as “adoptive” seizures because the federal agency adopts the seizures made by state and local law enforcement agencies.
The DEA Agents Manual states that, in reviewing an adoption request from state or local law enforcement agencies, the DEA should take into consideration whether:
•state law authorizes the transfer of the asset(s) to the federal government for forfeiture, •state law or procedures are inadequate or forfeiture experience is lacking in the state system, •the appropriate state or local prosecuting official has reviewed the case and declined to initiate forfeiture proceedings, •a "significant amount" (that is, an amount sufficient to warrant federal prosecution) of drugs is involved, and
•the government is likely to be able to satisfy its requisite burden of proof that the asset is subject to forfeiture.
Federal law authorizes the Department to share with state and local law enforcement agencies the property and proceeds from adoptive and joint seizures forfeited under federal law. This process is called equitable sharing. Any property or proceeds transferred to a state or local law enforcement agency must have a reasonable relationship to the degree of participation the agency had in the law enforcement effort that led to the seizure. Equitable sharing of seized property encourages cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. To receive an equitable share of seized property, a participating law enforcement agency must submit an equitable sharing request form to the federal agency processing the asset for forfeiture. Seized assets and equitable sharing requests are tracked in the Department’s Consolidated Assets Tracking System (CATS).
The objective of our audit was to assess the design and implementation of the DEA’s adoptive seizure process. We selected the DEA Atlanta Division for testing because, within the DEA, the Atlanta Division processed the largest dollar value of adoptive seizures and testing at the Atlanta Division enabled us to make efficient use of time and cost resources.
RESULTS IN BRIEF:
We found that the DEA generally complied with its internal controls for adoptive seizures that we tested. The DEA’s adoptive seizure process was designed to ensure compliance with laws and regulations except that the process did not require the DEA to make and preserve records of adoption requests that it denied. Without these records, we could not assess whether the DEA made the appropriate decisions pertaining to denied adoptive seizure requests. We also found that the form published by the DOJ Criminal Division and submitted to the DEA by state and local law enforcement agencies to request a federal adoption should be revised. The revised form should provide DEA managers who approve adoption requests with more information about whether the state and local law enforcement agencies followed state forfeiture law, if required, before seeking a federal adoption.
Nationwide, 9,035 equitable sharing requests estimated at $318.8 million were still in a “pending” (not paid) status for more than 4 years after the assets were seized.
As a result of our audit, we make three recommendations to improve the DEA’s adoptive seizure process and the Department’s Asset Forfeiture Program. First, we recommend that the DEA implement procedures to create and maintain records pertaining to adoption requests that were denied and the reasons for the denial. Those records could consist of emails containing details about the seizures and the reasons the DEA denied the adoption requests. Second, we recommend that the DEA coordinate with the Criminal Division, Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, to modify the adoption request form to include questions pertaining to whether state and local law enforcement agencies followed state forfeiture laws, if applicable, before seeking a federal adoption. Finally, we recommend that the DEA coordinate with Justice Management Division’s Asset Forfeiture Management Staff regarding the need for a system to: (1) identify equitable sharing requests pending for more than 6 months after forfeiture and disposal actions are completed, and (2) ensure that the appropriate DOJ component updates CATS as necessary for each pending request.