Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Sued Over Civil Forfeiture Actions

Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Sued Over Civil Forfeiture Actions

District Attorney’s Office Accused of Running Forfeiture for Profit Scheme

Loading SUV onto tow truckThe state of Pennsylvania authorized civil forfeiture in 1988, ostensibly to prevent criminals from amassing substantial physical assets as a result of illegal activity. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in August, 2014, attorneys for a number of Philadelphia residents say the city’s prosecutors have aggressively pursued civil forfeiture, turning it into a highly profitable venture, netting the office millions in revenue every year.

According to plaintiff Christos Sourovelis, his son was arrested and sentenced to court-ordered rehabilitation for selling $40 worth of drugs near their home in Philadelphia’s Somerton neighborhood. Approximately a month later, police officers showed up at his home, serving a civil forfeiture action, seeking to take his home.

Representatives from the district attorney’s office defended the action, calling it “an important tool in the fight against drug trafficking.” Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Virginia, accused the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office of “turn[ing] this tool into a veritable machine, devouring real and personal property from thousands of residents…converting that property into $5.8 million in average annual revenue.”

The statistics support Sheth’s allegations:

  • Almost 50% of all money and property seized in Pennsylvania since 2002 has been taken in Philadelphia
  • The city has taken more than $64 million in property in the last 10 years, nearly twice as much as Brooklyn and Los Angeles com
  • The per capita amount seized–$43 for every resident of the city—is twice that of any other area

Representatives of the District Attorney’s office admit that the money obtained from civil forfeiture accounts for about 20% of the prosecutor’s annual budget. An estimated 40% of the value of property seized pays for prosecutor’s salaries.

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