The same prosecutor accused of bullying Internet freedom hero Aaron Swartz to commit suicide, Carmen Ortiz, is once again being defined as a bully after her failed attempt to seize a mom-and-pop motel.
According to the Boston Herald:
A Tewksbury motel owner who just beat back U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s three-year bid to seize his business has become the latest critic to accuse the Hub’s top fed of prosecutorial bullying.
“I don’t think she should have the power she has to pull this stuff on people,” Russ Caswell, owner of the Motel Caswell, told the Herald last night after a judge’s ruling in his favor.
The feds first tried to grab Caswell’s property in 2009 under drug seizure laws, citing numerous drug busts at the motel. Caswell’s defense team argued that he was not responsible for what guests did. And his lawyers found there was actually more drug activity at nearby businesses, and theorized the government was going after Caswell, who has no criminal record, because his mortgage-free property is worth more than $1 million.
“It’s bullying by the government. And it’s a huge waste of taxpayer money,” said Caswell, whose father built the motel in 1955. “This has been a huge financial and physical toll. It’s thrown our whole family into turmoil. You work for all your life to pay for something and these people come along and think it’s theirs. It’s just wrong. The average person can’t afford to fight this.”
Is this what America pays their prosecutors to do? Can there be a more Orwellian definition of the “Justice” Department?
“This is one of the most aggressive uses of civil forfeiture laws. It’s a power that’s too easily abused, and this case epitomizes what an aggressive U.S. attorney can do to a small-business owner with that law,” said Scott Bullock of the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, who worked on Caswell’s case.
Now, instead of illegally seizing a property worth $1 million, taxpayers must pay $600,000 for Caswell’s legal fees due to Ortiz’s aggression for a case that Bullock says “should not have been filed in the first place.”
Previously, Ortiz defended accusations of literally bullying Swartz to death by stating “this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case.” But now we know, thanks to reporting by CNET, that Swartz didn’t face any prison time until Ortiz and the feds took over the case.
Obviously, in both the Swartz case and the Caswell case, Ortiz and the feds had an agenda far exceeding their authority and the bounds of the fairness and justice. For Swartz, it seemed to be to silence and intimidate dissent, and for Caswell it seemed to be good old fashioned greed.
Two good things may come from this ruling: First, a precedent is set that the feds cannot seize someone’s property simply because illegal activity occurred on the premises, and second, perhaps Ortiz will finally be fired and maybe face a brutal civil battle with the Swartz family.
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