The Civil Remedies Unit prosecutes civil forfeiture actions where the State has seized money, motor vehicles, real estate and personal property received as proceeds of or utilized in connection with or in furtherance of unlawful activity. The Unit is staffed by one assistant prosecutor, a prosecutor’s agent and a secretary. The Unit files complaints and motions, negotiates settlements and is responsible for trials, among other civil litigation proceedings. The Unit also handles miscellaneous civil litigation involving the BCPO, advises and educates local police departments regarding forfeitures and is responsible for responding to Open Public Records Requests received by the BCPO.
Forfeiture matters can arise from any indictable offense. Although forfeiture is not limited to narcotics cases, narcotics-related forfeitures are the most common. Forfeiture cases are generated by various law enforcement agencies including our Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force (GGNTF) and office units such as Sexual Assault/Child Abuse and Major Crimes, and from municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. By participation with federal agencies, the BCPO has received shares of federally forfeited funds.
In 2016, state and federal civil forfeiture generated $241,149.00 in cash and property for use by law enforcement. From civil judgments and auction totals, $102,163.16 was distributed to participating state and local law enforcement agencies and some $114,935.00 was deposited in the BCPO Law Enforcement Trust Account.
The Civil Remedies Unit also coordinates the use, sale and disposition of currency, vehicles and real and personal property obtained through forfeiture. After entry of judgment in a forfeiture case, the proceeds are distributed to participating state and local law enforcement agencies. Some expenses, such as the Ten Percent Fund, are deducted before contributive shares are calculated. The Ten Percent Fund was established to encourage local police departments to send officers to train with our GGNTF. As a result of their participation, local departments receive a pro rata share of ten percent of forfeited funds generated during a 12-month period. In 2016, $31,178.38 in Ten Percent Funds was distributed to participating departments.
Property forfeited includes cash, motor vehicles and miscellaneous items such as flat screen televisions and jewelry. Vehicles and other useful miscellaneous personal property are sometimes turned over to local police departments for law enforcement use. After forfeiture or the term of usefulness, items and vehicles are sold at public auction. Property forfeited in 2016 included cash, cars and miscellaneous property. Twelve vehicles were turned over to local police departments for law enforcement use.
The Civil Remedies Unit relies on the Screening and Intake, Juvenile and Evidence Management Units of the BCPO and networks with local police and New Jersey State Police regarding potential forfeiture cases. Potential cases are reviewed by the assistant prosecutor with occasional subsequent review by the Prosecutor.
In addition to other duties, the Unit secretary creates new files, tracks service and discovery, updates the forfeiture computer program and records and files orders, lis pendens and judgments, among other documents. In 2016, 170 cases were reviewed for forfeiture and 126 pending matters were resolved or partially resolved.
The Evidence Management Unit assists the Civil Remedies Unit by securing, documenting and tabulating seized funds and miscellaneous property until a final court order is entered and the funds and/or property are available for disbursement. The County Treasurer’s Office maintains the various forfeiture accounts. The BCPO office manager monitors the accounts, files quarterly reports and reconciles forfeiture reporting by the local police departments pursuant to Attorney General’s Office regulations.
Funds generated through forfeiture are strictly limited to law enforcement use, and expenditures of local police departments are monitored by the BCPO. Forfeiture finances expenditures to enhance law enforcement capabilities such as training for personnel, escalating the GGNTF’s capabilities and increasing public education efforts to combat criminal activity and drug abuse.