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Marshals Defended on 'Drug War Cross Fire'

February 09, 1992

For an article in the Real Estate section ("Drug War Cross Fire," Jan. 12), author Ron Galperin seems to have done a fair amount of research. Unfortunately, he didn't do enough. As a result, there is a glaring error which I feel compelled to call to your attention.

Near the end of the article, Mr. Galperin makes reference to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that, according to Mr. Galperin, said the U.S. Marshals Service is mismanaging seized properties. Wrong! The report to which he refers is entitled "Asset Forfeiture: Need for Stronger Marshals Service Oversight to Commercial Real Property Seizures", and its obvious Mr. Galperin never read it. Nowhere in the report does GAO accuse the Marshals Service of mismanagement.

On the contrary, in various reports and in recent testimony before Congress, GAO found the Marshals Service's overall management of seized assets of such quality that it recommended that all property seized by the U.S. Customs Service be placed under Marshals Service management.

Instead of going to the source, Mr. Galperin apparently relied on a similarly inaccurate Associated Press story (dated 4-14-91) which misrepresented the content of the GAO report. Consequently, Mr. Galperin also falsely states that the GAO report "charged the marshals with having caused 'embarrassment to the government'--especially in failure to conduct thorough title searches."

That is not what GAO said. Instead, the GAO report noted that the Marshals Services "was ordered (by the Court) to seize property from an innocent third party because it was thought the property belonged to a drug trafficker/money launderer." Thus, any embarrassment caused by the seizure would have been the responsibility of the investigative agency that sought and obtained the court order for seizure--not the Marshals Service.

We are extremely proud of the manner in which the Marshals Service has exercised its stewardship over the massive and extremely complex seized assets program. And, while we recognize that improvements can always be made in our operations, we object to the misrepresentation of facts contained in Mr. Galperin's article.

STEPHEN T. BOYLE, Chief, Congressional and Public Affairs

Galperin responds to U.S. Marshals Service:

"Asset Forfeiture: Need for Stronger Marshals Service Oversight of Commercial Properties," This is both the title and the theme of the GAO's 26-page report to Congress.

In this report, the GAO detailed how: "Failure of (U.S. Mar s hals Service) districts to follow policy in performing key program activities on high-value commercial real properties resulted in a weakened internal control environment . ... The districts' failure to always carry out these activities for high value commercial properties led to situations in which the government lost or was at risk of losing money on properties worth millions of dollars."

One case cited by the report which "resulted in embarrassment to the government," involved the Marshals' seizure of a property from an innocent third party because it was thought the property belonged to a drug trafficker/money launderer. While this action was ordered by a court, the Marshals seized the property without adequate documentation. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Marshals' policies state that information on encumbrances and legal owners of a property must be obtained before seizure, except when obtaining a title search could jeopardize the case.

Another example suggesting "mismanagement" included one district which "was providing no oversight of the manager of a seized shopping center appraised at $1.4 million."

Finally, the report said: "A review of documents obtained from the district's property cases filed indicated that in some cases (1) the district information was incorrect, (2) information from headquarters was incorrect, or (3) both were incorrect."

Sounds a lot like "mismanagement."

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