Office of the State Auditor logo

For Immediate Release
September 2, 2020

Contact: Donald McFarland
Phone: 651-236-0494

The big story is in the small numbers

Saint Paul, MN – Earlier today, State Auditor Julie Blaha released the 2019 Asset Forfeiture Report. The annual report provides accountability and transparency for the system of asset forfeitures that are governed by Minnesota statutes. The data provided highlights trends in value and number of forfeitures as well as the types of property and crimes involved.

“The data shows that when it comes to the impact of forfeitures, the big story is in the small numbers,” said Auditor Blaha. “The majority of forfeitures are of cash and property that nets less than $1500. Those kinds of amounts have a small impact on government systems, but they have a big impact at the individual level.”

Blaha continued, “If you are managing a public safety budget, small forfeitures are a minor and unpredictable part of your revenue stream. But if you are a low income person experiencing a forfeiture, those amounts can have a big effect on your life. Having a few hundred dollars seized can mean the difference between making rent or homelessness. Losing that old car can lead to missing work and losing your job.”

“Forfeiture reform efforts in the legislature this past session considered restricting forfeitures smaller than $1500,” added Blaha. “The total net value of forfeitures under $1500 in Minnesota in 2019 was approximately $1.5 million. On a system level, a change that size is manageable. On an individual level, those changes could make a big impact. Future legislatures would be wise to continue those discussions.”

Other major trends in the data have been relatively consistent over the past five years. While the number of completed forfeitures decreased between 2018 and 2019, there was an increase of 15 percent in reported forfeitures over the past five years.

This year’s report shows that in Minnesota, the most common criminal activities leading to asset forfeiture were Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and controlled substance-related, accounting for 94 percent of the reported forfeitures. Over the last five years, the total number of DUI and controlled substance related forfeitures increased 21 and 13 percent respectively.

Highlights of the report include:

  • In 2019, 317 Minnesota law enforcement agencies reported a total of 7,708 completed forfeitures. This compares to 8,091 completed forfeitures in 2018.
  • Of the 7,708 completed forfeitures reported in 2019, 4,351 involved seized cash, property that was sold, or an agreement that required monetary compensation to the agency. The total value of net proceeds from these forfeitures was $7,525,857.
  • In 2019, gross sales of forfeited property or seized cash totaled $10,487,082; administrative expenses, and lien holders’ obligations totaled $1,949,184; amount returned totaled $1,277,462; and net proceeds totaled $ 7,525,857.
  • The agencies with 100 or more completed forfeitures in 2019 were: the Minnesota State Patrol (1,383); Southeast Minnesota Narcotics and Gang Task Force (211); Wright County Sheriff’s Office (190); Minneapolis Police Department (185); CEE-VI Drug Task Force (166); Dakota County Drug Task Force (155); Bloomington Police Department (134); Saint Paul Police Department (134); Rochester Police Department (114); and Blaine Police Department (109).
  • In 2019, vehicles accounted for 65 percent of property seized, followed by cash at 25 percent, firearms at 9 percent, and other property at 1 percent.
  • The most common criminal activities leading to seizure, forfeiture, and final disposition of property in 2019 were DUI-related and controlled substance, accounting for 94 percent of the forfeitures. DUI-related forfeitures accounted for 3,654, or 47 percent, of reported forfeitures, while forfeitures involving a controlled substance accounted for 3,611, or 47 percent, of reported forfeitures. The remaining forfeitures involved fleeing (251), prostitution (69), “other” crimes (36), weapons (31), robbery/theft (23), assault (20), and burglary (13).
  • For 2019, 134 agencies reported that they did not process any property under the forfeiture statutes, compared to 138 in 2018.

The forfeitures presented in this report only reflect property forfeited under Minnesota state statutes. Property forfeited under federal statutes is reported to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (USDT). The data can be found on the DOJ website and the USDT website.

For background purposes, the Minnesota Legislature authorized local law enforcement agencies to use forfeited property for law enforcement purposes or sell the property and use the proceeds of the sale for authorized agency activities in 1971. State laws governing property that is subject to forfeiture proceedings, and the actual disposition of the forfeited property, have changed considerably since inception. A more detailed history of Minnesota forfeiture legislation can be found on pages 5-7 of the report.

To view the complete report go to: https://www.auditor.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=2019AssetForfeitRpt

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The Office of the State Auditor is the constitutional office that oversees nearly $40 billion in local government finances for Minnesota taxpayers. The Office of the State Auditor helps to ensure financial integrity and accountability in local government financial activities. Julie Blaha is Minnesota’s 19th State Auditor. Follow us on Twitter @MNStateAuditor.