Feds Sought "Shock" Value In Surprising Landlords With Forfeiture Threats
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made headlines yesterday when he announced that the Obama administration wants to reform federal sentencing guidelines so that judges will no longer send people to prison for lengthy terms when they are caught with a relatively small amount of drugs. The policy shift, while perhaps too little and too late to make up for decades of wasteful prohibition and generations of ruined lives, is being celebrated on both sides of the political aisle.
But meanwhile, Holder's Justice Department seems fit to continue its heavy-handed and hypocritical crackdown on medical marijuana in California, cracking down on countless collectives throughout the state, and threatening numerous landlords with asset forfeiture. As the Weekly has already reported, one building the feds are targeting is owned by a couple consisting of a computer engineer and his dentist wife who now stand to lose their $1.5 million retirement investment property over a $37 pot sale.
Thanks to a lawsuit filed by that couple, a wealth of emails has surfaced that detail the feds' quest to rid Anaheim of marijuana dispensaries. One email exchange answers an interesting question: why would the feds routinely fail to send landlords threatening letters by registered or certified mail?
In a Feb. 12, 2013 email, one federal agent described a conversation he'd had that morning with a landlord who had no idea he was in danger of losing his property. The landlord, the agent recalled, "said he is unaware that it was illegal for his tenants to sell marijuana from his property. He also said he was never contacted by the government in reference to this property being used to sell marijuana."
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The agent then asked his colleagues whether they had any record of a letter being sent to the landlord. In response, another agent chimed in and claimed that he'd just hand-delivered a letter to the landlord, stating that it had been mailed the previous year. "He said he never got it but the tenants moved out around the time the letter was dated."
Responding to that exchange, Greg Parham, who was supervising federal asset forfeiture efforts earlier this year, thanks everyone for their hard work and bluntly states that "we have made a strategic decision not to send our warning letters out via certified or registered mail."
Why would the feds deliberately not make every effort to insure that landlords are notified in a timely and reliable manner that their buildings are being targeted?
For "shock value," Parham's replacement, Steven Welk, allegedly told attorney Matt J. Pappas in a courtroom conference earlier this year.
"Mr. Welk told me he intentionally did not send warning letters to [three of my clients] ahead of filing forfeiture actions against their properties," Pappas claimed in a July 23 letter to U.S. attorney Andre Birotte. "Just days after receiving the lis pendens and notice of the federal lawsuit to take her property, [one landlord] went to the hospital for cardiac issues because of the stress. Her husband . . . told me multiple times he wasn't breaking any laws when I first met him."
Another client was "inconsolable" after learning the feds planned to seize his building. "After a couple of months and the immense stress, [he] looks like he's aged twenty years, Pappas wrote, while another landlord "cried" during his first meeting with her. One pair of landlords, Pappas told Birotte was an elderly couple; the husband "has terminal cancer and is now in the hospital. Yet Mr. Welk wanted the 'shock' value of filing against them without any prior warning notice by the federal government. What a guy."
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