It’s time to fix an odd quirk in Missouri law that obscures how counties account for millions in seized drug money and other criminal assets.
The law — the Criminal Activity Forfeiture Act, or CAFA — requires Missouri’s prosecutors to estimate the value of the assets they’ve seized from drug dealers and others during the previous year.
The state auditor compiles that data into an annual report, so everyone can see how much each county has seized.
CAFA also requires the prosecutors to tell the auditor how much of that money has been given to the state, how much has been returned to the original owner and how much has been transferred to a federal agency.
That’s important because money transferred to the state benefits public schools, while most of the money funneled through a federal agency, such as the DEA, goes back to police agencies for their use.
So what’s the problem? Join me in the weeds for just a second.
The law requires prosecutors to account only for seizures made in the previous calendar year. And that status can include a biggish category called “pending,” which includes money and assets that did not make it through the complete judicial forfeiture process by Dec. 31.
But the law doesn’t require prosecutors to follow up and tell the auditor what happened to those “pending” dollars in subsequent years. Those assets still go somewhere, but nobody’s required to say where.
In 2013, $1.8 million — or about 40 percent of the $4.6 million in statewide CAFA assets — was “pending” as of Dec. 31.
It’s likely that most of that $1.8 million actually was transferred to the state. About $1.4 million in CAFA money was transferred to the state’s School Building Revolving Fund in 2014, according to a state education spokeswoman.
But if the point of a county-by-county breakdown is to show the public and lawmakers how local officials are handling seized assets, then a more complete accounting of that “pending” category just makes sense.
A final note: The auditor also prepares a report showing how much in seized assets that local police turn over to the federal forfeiture system, bypassing CAFA. The numbers there are larger. The latest report showed that Missouri police agencies handed about $13.6 million to the feds in 2013. But that’s a story for another day.