This is the accusation of critics of the budget-balancing program in a Texas town.
The town takes in $800,000 a year with this program. The police stop people driving through. They charge them with drug trafficking. They take their children and turn them over to Child Protective Services. Then, to get their kids back, the drivers must forfeit their money.
Is this creative budget-balancing, or what?
Documents reviewed by The Associated Press describe the extent to which children became pawns as authorities in Tenaha, a town near the Louisiana border, accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars through highway traffic stops that have since sparked a federal investigation.
“They basically said, ‘If you all want to leave without going to jail tonight and take your kids with you, then you’ll sign over your money right now,’” Jennifer Boatright, a Houston mother of two, said in an interview describing her encounter with local officials.
The town has been named in a class-action suit. The Justice Department is also investigating.
The involvement of children adds another element to a case that has especially troubled critics of civil asset forfeiture laws. Those laws allow authorities to seize cash or other property if they believe it’s linked to criminal activity, even in cases where defendants aren’t found guilty.
In two of the Tenaha incidents, authorities separated a small child from one couple pulled over in a traffic stop and threatened to do the same to another, according to case documents.
He did get his money back after he filed suit.
In another incident in 2007, Boatright, her boyfriend and their two children were pulled over for what Washington’s report said was “driving in the left lane for over a half mile without passing and crossing over (the) white line.” Washington wrote that he searched the car because he smelled marijuana and found $6,000 in the console.
The couple was cited for money laundering and child endangerment. But they avoided going to jail and surrendering their children, ages 18 months and 12 years, by immediately agreeing to forfeit the cash, according to a court document spelling out the arrangement.