Lawmakers believe house bill will make profit easier for cartels
YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - On Friday, March 19, two dozen Arizona Sheriffs and County Attorneys respectfully requested that HB2810 be amended to remove the requirement of a criminal conviction in cases of currency transfer, limiting the need of conviction only to real property.
"We, the undersigned Sheriffs and County Attorneys for the state of Arizona, respectfully write to express our grave concern with the impact of HB2810, civil asset forfeiture, on our southern border security. A significant contributing factor to border instability is the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs)," began the letter.
List of Sheriffs and County Attorneys:
- Kent Volkmer (Pinal County Attorney Cochise County Sheriff)
- Mark Dannels (President – ACASA President – Arizona Sheriffs Association)
- Joe Dedman (Apache County Sheriff)
- Michael B. Whiting (Apache County Attorney)
- Brian McIntyre (Cochise County Attorney)
- Jim Driscoll (Coconino County Sheriff)
- Bill Ring (Coconino County Attorney)
- Adam Shepherd (Gila County Sheriff)
- PJ Allred (Graham County Sheriff)
- Scott Bennett (Graham County Attorney)
- Tim Sumner (Greenlee County Sheriff)
- Jeremy Ford (Greenlee County Attorney)
- William Ponce (La Paz County Sheriff)
- Paul Penzone (Maricopa County Sheriff)
- Allister Adel (Maricopa County Attorney)
- Matt Smith (Mohave County Attorney)
- David Clouse (Navajo County Sheriff)
- Brad Carlyon (Navajo County Attorney)
- Mark Lamb (Pinal County Sheriff)
- David Hathaway (Santa Cruz County Sheriff)
- George Silva (Santa Cruz County Attorney)
- David Rhodes (Yavapai County Sheriff)
- Sheila Polk (Yavapai County Attorney)
- Leon Wilmot (Yuma County Sheriff)
- Jon Smith (Yuma County Attorney)
Their request was specifically addressed to Gov. Doug Ducey and members of the Arizona State Legislature.
From their experience, "...HB2810 removes from law enforcement an essential civil remedy to divest the DTOs of the profits of their trade—the currency flowing south. This will, in turn, increase smuggling opportunities for DTOs and intensify the border crisis. Arizona is a key smuggling corridor and distribution hub for the Mexican DTOs that supply the U.S. domestic drug market and run U.S. currency and guns back into Mexico."
The Arizona-Mexico border has increasingly become a major transshipment point for tons of quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana to enter the U.S. from Mexico. According to the Arizona HIDTA Threat Assessment 2020, Mexican-based DTOs are in direct contact with DTOs in Arizona to coordinate the transportation of drugs across the Southwest Border and subsequent distribution into the rest of America.
"Federal, state and local law enforcement entities are witnessing a dramatic increase in the amount of fentanyl, a deadly drug, seized in Arizona," the writers expressed. "Prior to 2016, no fentanyl seizures were recorded. Since 2016, Arizona fentanyl seizures increased 3,541%; fentanyl seizures at Arizona ports of entry increased 2,611%. Arizona seizures of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl increased 13,140% from FY2016 to FY2019."
DTOs in Mexico and Arizona use varying transportation methods to defeat Southwest Border defenses such as tractor-trailer trucks and vehicles outfitted with deep hidden compartments; stolen vehicles; all-terrain-vehicles; underground tunnels; ultralight aircraft; and scouts and spotters who assist backpackers hiking through the desert and vehicles traveling through the desert.
Officials believe, "The requirement in HB2810 of a criminal conviction against the owner of the property is a virtually impossible obstacle to overcome; these sophisticated operations depend on a network of 'mules' who drive the vehicles across Arizona highways with concealed narcotics, guns or currency, thus insulating theDTOs from the underlying criminal conduct."
In the last quarter of 2020, the Southwest Border region saw an increase in firearms seizures of 300% and illicit currency seizures totaling $14,208,090. Arizona’s share of the illicit currency seizures was $2,692,427. From FY2018 to FY2019, bulk illicit currency seized in Arizona increased 101%, from $10,163,442 to $20,512,956. DTOs are increasingly using money services businesses to send currency from Arizona to drug source cities in California and Mexico. Specific areas of increase are Flagstaff, along I-40, and Yuma, along I-8.
"While we respect the legislature's efforts to protect American Citizens from government overreach and guarantee due process, HB2810 does far more than that," the letter writers critiqued. "As you can see, HB 2810, as written gives a free pass to transnational multibillion-dollar smuggling organizations to prey on American citizens by simply keeping the money away from the crime. HB2810, as written, is a tremendous win for the smuggling organizations, dramatically limiting law enforcement’s ability to prevent criminals from obtaining their ultimate prize, money. Simply put, criminals are smarter than that."
It seems that only civil asset forfeiture (the process in which law enforcement officers take assets from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing) can effectively attack the financial power of DTOs through the rapid mobilization of legal tools to seize and deplete the lifeblood of the industry. HB2810’s requirement of a criminal conviction against the owner of the property removes this effective strategy, emboldening the DTOs, weakening policies and exacerbating the border crisis.