Sheriff’s Office finds uses for illegally obtained property

When the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office arrests a criminal, it often ends up with criminals’ property, and the department must go through a stringent process to use the property for its own aims.

Cash is easy, said Marshall County Chief Deputy Burt Tecklenburg. The sheriff’s office must kick back 10 percent of money seized, often from drug arrests, to the state. Another 10 percent goes to the local attorney’s office. The sheriff’s office keeps the remaining money, but the department must use it in a specific way.

“The money can be used for equipment, training re-funneled into an account to buy drugs,” he said.

Since the state does not earmark money for drug purchases, money recovered from drug raids proves essential in funding controlled buys the Mid-Iowa Drug Task Force conducts as part of its stings, Tecklenburg said.

However, the sheriff’s office occasionally ends up with property used in illegal activities. Forfeited property can come from any crime, and the most common property is vehicles purchased with money obtained illegally. The state has no interest in such property; it’s simply too much trouble.

Typically, guns recovered are destroyed unless the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations lab needs one for ballistics testing; otherwise, the sheriff’s office could put in a request to have the weapon added to its arsenal.

The lion’s share of forfeited property is cell phones, which the sheriff’s office makes available to those without phones to ensure they can call 911 in an emergency through a statewide program.

Even with vehicles, Tecklenburg said, the department must follow a specific protocol. Usually, the vehicle is put up for public auction.

“If we sell it, we have to make sure there is no appearances of impropriety,” he said. “If I have a car here at the sheriff’s office, I cannot sell it to my brother.”

Tecklenburg said there doesn’t need to be a criminal conviction for the county to come in possession of forfeited property since forfeitures are a civil process. Occasionally, seized property – property used as evidence in a criminal investigation – becomes forfeited once criminal proceedings have concluded.

Sometimes TVs or electronic surveillance equipment are forfeited. In such cases, the sheriff’s office looks at the county’s needs and determines if a department can use the property. One time, the county came into possession of a bar that the owner had to forfeit, but such instances are rare, Tecklenburg said.

“It’s pretty typical to run into a high-volume (drug) trafficker who doesn’t have much in the way of a house or property,” he said.

County Attorney Jennifer Miller said the big-screen TV her office uses came from such forfeiture. Defense attorneys often use the TV to view witness testimonies and police camera footage. Having a larger screen makes viewing the videos easier, she said.

“It streamlines the process a lot,” Miller said. “We use it on a daily basis.”