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Austin criminal forfeiture nets over $33,000

According to a state auditor’s report, the Austin Police Department had a net proceed of $33,465 from criminal forfeitures in 2016.

All of the proceeds came from vehicle forfeitures.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto recently released the 2016 Criminal Forfeitures Report, showing the number and monetary value of forfeitures throughout Minnesota.

“Some of the money comes from selling the car in a commercial manner, like an auction,” said Austin Police Lt. John Mueller. “In the event of returning a vehicle, the owner or lien holder may be charged impound or storage fees, or it could be returned to the owner for a fee.”

Under Minnesota law, property associated with designated criminal offenses may be forfeited. The vehicles seized by the Austin Police Department were all involved in DWI-related cases.

The report states that Austin police seized 22 vehicles in 2016; proceeds were received from 15. Seven were returned to their owners or the lien holders.

“That decision [to return the vehicle] comes from the attorneys,” Mueller said. “Sometimes they negotiate in the forfeiture process. That is left to circumstance.”

Mueller said in the event a seized vehicle has another owner, the owner may file an innocent owner claim to have the vehicle returned to them if it can be resolved they had no prior knowledge it would be involved in criminal activity.

The police department also has the option to retain vehicles for their own use.

Mueller said money made from the sale of vehicles involved in DWI-related cases goes into a DWI fund used to educate and train, as well as purchase equipment, for DWI enforcement.

The report also indicated the Mower County Sheriff’s Department seized seven vehicles in 2016. Of those seven, three were from DWI-related cases, two were from controlled substance cases, one was from a property damage case and one was from fleeing police case.

All of the vehicles seized by the Mower County Sheriff’s Department were returned to the owners or lien holders in 2016.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said that any money made from forfeitures goes into a general fund.