DENVER – Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh on Tuesday announced a collection of $5.3 billion in civil and criminal recoveries at a time when some are calling for asset-forfeiture reform.
The collections took place over the fiscal year that ended on Oct. 1. Most of the money came from settlements with banks related to the mortgage crisis.
Money also came from restitution for physical injury or financial loss and fines for regulatory violations.
“The United States Attorney’s Office works tirelessly to investigate both civil and criminal misconduct and to collect money due to the taxpayers and to victims of that misconduct,” Walsh said in a statement.
The announcement comes as some express concerns about an overreach by the federal government on asset forfeitures, which represent $17.8 million of the $5.3 billion collected in Colorado.
Watchdog groups have raised fears about the government seizing citizens’ assets without due process. The incoming Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is likely to make the issue a focus, and reform legislation is already pending in Congress.
But Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for Walsh, pointed out that asset forfeitures represent only a fraction of the money collected. He said a large portion of the money offsets burdens on taxpayers.
“An important part of our function is to make sure the criminal doesn’t benefit or profit from their crime, and asset forfeiture is one way that we ensure that the criminal doesn’t profit,” Dorschner said.
The largest chunk of collections, $4.45 billion, came from a massive settlement with Citigroup regarding misconduct that led to aspects of the mortgage crisis and economic downturn.
Meanwhile, $21.8 million came from criminal and civil action recoveries, including money lost to fraud or fines imposed on individuals and corporations.
Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, said he worries that the government is focusing too much on fines.
“A lot of it is the profits of the regulatory state for the government,” Caldara said. “We have a federal government that polices everywhere and in so many ways that individuals and small business people are criminals – they just don’t know it.”