Stealing a Skyscraper

Civil asset forfeiture is widely used by law enforcers to steal cars, cash, and other valuable items that are easy to transport. Over time law enforcers have become bolder and have now gone so far as to steal an entire skyscraper:

The government can seize a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan that it says is controlled by Iran, a jury concluded on Thursday, allowing federal prosecutors to complete what they called the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in United States history.


The government has agreed to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could bring as much as $1 billion, to the families of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 11 attacks. The office tower is highly coveted real estate; Nike recently signed a 15-year deal to rent seven of its 36 floors.

And, of course, the State received a rubber stamp approval from an “impartial” overview committee:

The jury, which deliberated for one day after a month of testimony, found that the Alavi Foundation, which owns 60 percent of the 36-floor skyscraper at 650 Fifth Avenue, violated United States sanctions against Iran and engaged in money laundering through its partnership with Assa Corporation, a shell company for an Iranian state-controlled bank that had owned the remaining 40 percent.

This is what happens when juries are instructed to rule on the letter of the law instead of whether or not the action was just. Civil asset forfeiture law is pretty clear about allowing the State to seize any property that it claims to be associate with a drug crime or terrorism. Because of that any jury ruling on a case involving civil asset forfeiture that is instructed to rule based on the letter of the law is bound to find any act of civil forfeiture, no matter hour absurd, to be legal.

In addition to the skyscraper, the State also seized several bank accounts but that’s pretty par for the course. Unfortunately, this precedent means that more high valued properties are likely to be seized by the State in the coming years. Yet again we see that one cannot own property in the United States.