Between 2019 and 2021, local law enforcement seized just over $1.3 million in cash from illegal gambling establishments suspected of drug dealers, allowing them to invest in technology and equipment upgrades.
Odessa police carried out 90% of seizures and received $1.18 million, according to records obtained from the Ector County District Attorney’s Office through the Texas Public Information Act. The Ector County Sheriff’s Office seized just under $81,000 from her, and the DPS seized just over $48,000 from her over his three years.
Under Texas law, law enforcement officers are permitted to seize cash or property that they believe to be the ill-gotten gains from criminal activity. Ector County District Attorney Dusty Gallivan will then have to file a civil forfeiture lawsuit in district court, giving the owner of the cash and property an opportunity to disprove that the money and property were the result of illegal activity. .
“There are no public hearings because these cases usually don’t show up,” Gallivan said.
While seizing property and cash and filing for confiscation proceedings has caused controversy in other jurisdictions, Mr. Gallivan said criminal charges have been filed against the defendants or whether his office is pursuing criminal proceedings. He said he would not file a forfeiture lawsuit unless it was imminent.
“The law does not require a conviction,” says Galivan. “My policy is not to seize funds or property unless there is a related criminal case. The case may not have been resolved yet, but whether in the state or federal system, they should is being charged with something the federal government wants to deal with but drugs were high enough the federal government wants it to be. We will file a forfeiture lawsuit.”
He said it was fair to file only if there was a criminal case.
“I can’t break into your house and steal your TV. And I can’t steal your TV when they arrest me. “You can’t speak for everyone across the state. That’s how we do it here.”
Records show that law enforcement has also seized vehicles, televisions, drones, power tools and soundbars in recent years. OPD records show that some of the vehicles are being held for use by undercover agents, and the rest of the property is being auctioned off.
Records show that the majority of seizures are related to drug cases, but not necessarily when it comes to the percentage of cash seized.
51% of cash seized by OPD in 2019 was related to just two illegal gambling incidents. His other 16 cases filed involved drugs.
In 2020, OPD filed 34 drug cases, one money laundering case, and nearly $44,000 was seized. Overall, OPD seized $609,428 that year.
In 2021, 50 forfeiture cases involving OPD were filed, and about 30% of the $421,589 seized was related to five illegal gambling cases. Records show that seven of the 50 cases were theft cases and the rest were drug cases.
About $84,000 was seized in the theft of a catalytic converter, and about $35,000 was seized from two people accused of illegally selling buyer tags, temporary vehicle registration tags. In the third case, records show he was seized more than $18,000 from a man accused of selling catalytic converters and drugs.
Proving that their property and cash was not illicitly obtained can be somewhat difficult, Gallivan said.
“It depends. For example, I’ve had money seized from my wallet by a policeman in a game room where I was just an employee. Well, we gave that money back because it was their salary and Because it clearly wasn’t earnings in my opinion, even if it came indirectly from illegal earnings, they didn’t earn it illegally, they earned it as part of their salary, so We gave the money back,” Gallivan said.
Gallivan said he doesn’t believe the fact that secret game room operations usually lead to the seizure of large amounts of cash gives law enforcement an incentive to carry out such operations.
“But with any criminal organization, that’s the quickest way to try to stop them. You go after their money. If you can’t make or keep money, they stay in business.” I can’t,” said Gallivan.
Gallivan said there are strict rules about how law enforcement can use the cash it seizes or gets after the seized property is auctioned off.
His office, which receives a portion of the seized cash but 0% of the auction’s proceeds, is using it for technology upgrades, Surface laptops and training, he said.
“I use it to keep my computer up to date and I have a Surface. Due to COVID I need the ability to work from home and that is where the Surfaces come in. Currently working remotely 2 We have two employees, but we actually just hired another two people to work remotely, so they only have Surfaces,” Gallivan says.
Records obtained from OPD through a TPIA request show that the department also used the seized money for technology.
“There are very limited ways that these funds can actually be used,” said OPD Chief Mike Gurk. “You can’t build new buildings with it. I can’t go on vacation to Mexico. None of them. Just rigs.”
Gerke is a strong believer in information-driven policing that results in police being placed in areas where data shows crime is occurring. In recent years, the agency has invested in drones, incident management cameras monitored by the city’s real-time intelligence center, Flock security cameras that read license plates, and He CloudGavel, an electronic warrant system that can be created and reviewed by officers and judges. rice field. Handle arrest and search warrants on site.
Asked about the extent of the drug problem in Odessa, Goerke said we are no different than any other community.
“Like any community in America, there are drug dealers in Odessa who are targeting them. So drug dealers, violent crimes, property crimes, most of them are all interconnected,” Goerke said. “The strategy, therefore, is to use all means legally to rid our communities of those who are causing social harm. , if I can file a drug lawsuit against them, I will go that route. Do you have any cartel ties in Odessa? I think every community in Texas has cartel ties.”
Currently, methamphetamine is the most prevalent drug in Odessa, followed by marijuana, Goerke said.Most cases are prosecuted in the federal court system, he said.
The OPD’s narcotics unit consists of a sergeant and six agents, but CloudGavel allows patrols to play a role in narcotics investigations, Gerke said.
“When we moved to an intelligence-led police force, we really changed the role of the patrol, so we gave them more power,” Goerke said. It’s not just running and writing tickets and taking reports, it’s actually patrolmen getting[arrest]warrants and search warrants, and the same goes for stolen goods and drugs.”