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February 4, 2013

Asset-seizure funds decline

MALONE — Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne says three recent trends have dried up the drug-forfeiture money that local law-enforcement agencies covet.

For years, cash seized from drug dealers has been used to buy equipment for local police agencies and to fund investigations, computer upgrades, building renovations and camera purchases.

But the shutting down of large-scale marijuana networks and improved law-enforcement efforts on the Canadian side of the border broke up Hell’s Angels and Rock Machine smuggling operations in Quebec, he said in his annual report to the County Legislature.

Also, the way pot purchases are made has been altered, he said. Instead of smuggling large sums of cash from a sale back into Canada, the money is being shipped to the West Coast of the United States and used to buy cocaine, which is then smuggled into Canada and sold at a large profit.

“These three factors have led to almost a complete stop of any significant cash seizures,” the DA said.

LOST INVESTIGATOR

That money was used to fund Franklin County’s Narcotics and Border Task Force.

The decline in funding also means Champagne’s senior investigator has been temporarily assigned to the federal Border Enforcement Security Team (BEST) so Franklin County can share in any

assets seized in busts made by that unit.

If there is not enough BEST funding to sustain his participation, the investigator can be reassigned to civil forfeitures of cases involving possession or sale of controlled substances, he said.

RENTALS

Another local DA is also feeling the pinch of a lost revenue stream.

“We are all seeing an impact on our seizures,” said Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague. “Dealers are using rental cars or cars that are not worth very much, so we are not being able to seize cars anymore.”

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