Asset Forfeiture--A Seldom Used Tool in Combating Drug Trafficking

Gao ID: GGD-81-51 April 10, 1981

GAO reviewed the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture program, described the extent to which forfeiture has been employed in narcotics cases, and discussed the problems limiting greater forfeiture use.

Billions of dollars are generated annually by organized crime. These illicit profits and the assets acquired with them were the target of legislation passed to combat organized crime through forfeiture of assets. However, assets obtained through forfeiture have been miniscule. The Government has not exercised the kind of leadership and management necessary to make asset forfeiture a widely used law enforcement technique. Justice has not given investigators or prosecutors the incentive or guidance to go after criminal assets. Emerging case law indicates that legislative changes are needed if investigators and prosecutors are to make meaningful attacks on the economic base of organized crime. Whether or not an improved asset forfeiture program will make a sizable dent in drug trafficking is uncertain. A successful forfeiture program could provide an additional dimension in the war on drugs by attacking the primary motive for such crimes, monetary gain. More forfeitures have not been realized because forfeiture statutes are ambiguous in some areas or incomplete and deficient in others, investigators and prosecutors are not given the guidance and incentive for pursuing forfeiture, and access to financial information may be limited. The Government lacks the most rudimentary information needed to manage the forfeiture effort. Justice is making efforts to remedy the matter by issuing guidance on the use of forfeiture statutes, analyzing in detail affected cases prosecuted since 1970, and preparing a manual on how to conduct financial investigations in drug cases.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Arnold P. Jones Team: General Accounting Office: General Government Division Phone: (202) 512-7797

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