Monday, February 24, 2014

Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Called Out By Attorney-Blogger for Illegal Civil Forfeiture Practices

Law Enforcement Agencies Across State Engage in Shakedown of Mexican Restaurants for Cold-Hard Cash

By Paul Ogden
Ogden on Politics

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Officials are looking to hang on to the more than $3.4 million confiscated last fall during raids at dozens of Mexican restaurants in Indianapolis and other locations across the state.

In a civil forfeiture lawsuit filed Friday, the Tippecanoe County prosecutor's office accuses El Rodeo's owners and other parties in the businesses of obtaining the money illegally. Therefore, the suit claims, the defendants should forfeit the money and return it to the criminal justice system.

Police across the state served search warrants Nov. 18 during raids at restaurants and homes. El ­Rodeo establishments in Indianapolis, Avon, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Richmond, Fortville and Mooresville were searched.

Other Mexican-themed restaurants also were raided, including El Jaripeo eateries in Indianapolis, Lebanon, Frankfort and Zionsville; Los Toros restaurants in Indianapolis; and three La Carreta Restaurant & Bars, in Schererville, Vincennes and Merrillville.

The Tippecanoe County lawsuit ­alleges that perjury and forgery ­occurred through falsified tax documents, business formation documents, employment records and tax returns.
Is Pat Harrington breaking the law on civil forfeiture?
The Tippecanoe County allegations seem more than a bit dubious. Alleged perjury and forgery on those types of tax and business documents would not generally be something targeted by prosecutors. However, local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies could well have been incentivized to conduct the raid in order to get their hands on cash for their departments. Under Indiana law, they don't have to pursue criminal charges against these restaurant owners. Instead in a civil case, those owners will have to hire their own attorneys and face a lower standard of proof, all the while facing the possibility of being criminally prosecuted if they don't give in and let the prosecutor and law enforcement agencies keep the money. People for whom English is a second language are even more intimidated by this type of lawsuit.. Many of those who are hit with civil forfeiture just end up walking away from their cash and property rather than try to fight.

Nonetheless, under Indiana law, law enforcement is only entitled to keep civil forfeiture proceeds to cover the cost of the action. The balance is to go to the Common School Fund. My research updated a couple years ago, showed that officials in Tippecanoe, Marion, Hendricks, Madison and Morgan counties, all places where these raids took place, are simply pocketing 100% of the money in contravention of the law. The article does, however, note a raid took place in Richmond, Indiana. In that county, the Wayne County Prosecutor was one of the few prosecutors in the state who made it a point to determine law enforcement costs in civil forfeiture actions in accordance with the law and to cut a check to the Common School Fund for the balance.

About Paul Ogden:  I have been an attorney since the Fall of 1987. I have worked in every branch of government, including a stint as a Deputy Attorney General, a clerk for a judge on the Indiana Court of Appeals, and I have worked three sessions at the Indiana State Senate. During my time as a lawyer, I have worked not only in various government positions, but also in private practice as a trial attorney handing an assortment of mostly civil cases. I have also been politically active and run this blog in an effort to add my voice to those calling for reform.


  1. Are you paying attention school officials?!!! You could be suing the prosecutor for money that legally belongs to the schools.

  2. I have been wondering about this case. It seems unbelievable that the prosecutor comes to the court with "hat in hand" to grab the confiscated personal property without any charges even being filed. This kind of heavy handed government shouldn't be tolerated. I'm the same way, where are the school corps? Maybe if Pat Harrington couldn't pocket all the 'spoils' of these raids he wouldn't be so apt attack the citizens.

  3. No arrests, no charges, no jury trial, no convictions and yet the state and local prosecutors can confiscate millions of dollars and property without due process. Makes me want to vomit! Where are your ethics Mr. Harrington?

    1. To be fair Harrington did make a point of it to say that the defendants (I'm not sure they are actually defendants without charges though!!!???) are innocent until proven guilty. But really poor until then I guess.

    2. Anyone else think it's strange that all the defendants speak with a Mexican twang ? Somehow I think these guys deserve our respect for coming to a strange place and striking out on their own to build successful businesses. Compare that to the hovering masses of "Canadians" that settle into places like Westchester Apartments and Cambridge Estates to collect government checks and various handouts. Don't forget Friday is "payday" so better avoid Aldis and restaurants.

  4. State DUI laws change frequently. Be sure your Los Angeles DUI attorney stays up to date on these issues. They involve a significant amount of scientific and physiological evidence.

  5. Been doing some investigation on the prosecutor and his office. I need to know about his discretionary fund and where can I see a copy of his expenditures? I am on to something his office is doing and I want to be sure I put some sunlight on him and the West Lafayette police department.