Mary Wolfe


DES MOINES | An investigation into the seizure of nearly $43 million in cash and assets by Iowa law enforcement using state and federal civil forfeiture laws is prompting action by the state Legislature.

“I wasn’t aware of quite how grievous the situation was in some counties,” defense attorney Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said Thursday during a meeting of the House Government Oversight Committee. “It is an ongoing issues and it is impacting Iowans on a daily basis. It’s something someone needs to address and I would like to see us do it.”

The Des Moines Register has reported on the use of cash and other assets seized over the past six years from people, some who are never charged with a crime. In some cases, assets were used to buy mulch, candles, tropical fish as well as vehicles, pay for utilities and, in one case, what a department called “secret investigations.”

Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, agreed with Wolfe. He plans to invite law enforcement as well as people who feel they have been victims of the law to meet with the committee.

Since the news stories appeared, Kaufmann has heard from law enforcement who “want to find a way to narrow it so it is not endangering the appropriate use of civil forfeiture.”

Senate Government Oversight Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said nobody has talked to him about the issue. If action is needed, Hogg said, it is “addressable through the regular Judiciary Committee process.”

However, Kaufmann said his bill on the matter, House File 417, was referred to the Judiciary Committee but never assigned to a subcommittee.

Criminal and civil forfeiture bills in the Senate fared little better. They were assigned to Judiciary subcommittees but never progressed beyond that.

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