Michigan asset seizure laws challenged

FRASER, Mich. – Your cash is your cash, right?

It is until the government says your use of your cash looks like you are guilty of a crime. Then, they can seize it -- whether your are charged with a crime or not.

The government keeps the cash and uses it, quite often, to fight more drug crime. However, the money also is used in way that are rather frightening, just ask 71-year-old Terry Dehko.

"Finding me guilty before you punish me, you cannot take the money like that," he said.

However, the federal government did just that without a trial, without a hearing. Dehko owned Schotts Market in Fraser for nearly 40 years. The Iraqi immigrant couldn't believe his ears when the feds simply took $35,000 out of his company bank account.

"Two days I couldn't sleep ... three days," he said.

The federal agents said Dehko's bank activity, which included a lot of $10,000 deposits, look suspicious -- like a drug dealer's. Dehko said the grocery business is cash-intensive.

"My insurance policy said you cannot take more than $10,000 to the bank, so if I had more than $10,000 I would do it two times a day," he said.

He hired a lawyer and won. His battle appeared in a Mackinac Center/ACLU study on civil forfeitures. It concludes:

"Michigan has loose laws that create bad incentives for law enforcement agencies to seize money and property from innocent people while denying important due process protections ... Michigan should change its current laws to limit abuse, increase transparency and protect important property rights."

Still, the long battle with the feds and grocery suppliers who wanted cash on delivery when he couldn't pay them led Dehko to sell his business.

"I said, 'What the hell. Let me go out and enjoy the couple of days I have left,'" he said.

Dehko got back his money and he used it to pay back his bills with his suppliers. He said the money the feds took wasn't his, it was his meat and grocery supplier's money. Once he paid them, he got out of the business.

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