United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass.
1986: The year after the US Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture fund was created, the account took in $93.7 million from seized property.
September 1994-November 2008: In its civil lawsuit, the government cited 15 drug-related incidents and 19 arrests at the Motel Caswell during this time period, including a fatal heroin overdose in 2007 and the discovery of a methamphetamine lab in one of its rooms in 2005. The activity represents less than 0.05 percent of the 125,000 room rentals at the motel over the 14 years, according to calculations by the defense.
2000: Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Amendment, in response to evidence that law enforcement agencies were abusing the law’s seizure rules.
Sept. 29, 2009: Russell H. Caswell’s 66th birthday, and the date that the US Department of Justice filed a verified complaint for forfeiture against his family’s property.
April 25, 2012: US Magistrate Judge Judith Gail Dein denied Caswell’s motion for summary judgment, which asked the judge to rule against the government’s lawsuit before trial. By his motion, Caswell was seeking a declaration that the federal government’s policy of sharing the proceeds of forfeited properties with local law enforcement agencies “is an impermissible use of the federal spending power in violation of the Tenth Amendment,’’ Caswell also was seeking and a declaration that “by seeking to take [his] entire livelihood, this forfeiture is an excessive fine in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
Nov. 5-8, 2012: The case goes to trial in US District Court in Boston. Dein expressed “serious concerns” about the government’s case and its interpretation of the civil forfeiture law.
Nov. 29, 2012: Deadline for post-trial briefs. Following the four-day trial, Dein took under advisement the issue of whether the family-owned motel is subject to the federal civil forfeiture law. She gave federal prosecutors and Caswell’s lawyers three weeks to submit written briefs to support their arguments.
2012: US Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture fund holds more than $1.6 billion.
SOURCES: Trial transcript and legal briefs, Institute for Justice reports