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Prosecutors want to keep $3.4M from El Rodeo raids

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Prosecutors have filed lawsuits seeking to keep more than $3.4 million seized during police raids last fall at about two dozen Mexican restaurants across Indiana.

Civil forfeiture lawsuits have been filed in Tippecanoe and Marion counties, accusing the restaurant owners and others involved with the businesses of illegally obtaining the money.

The Tippecanoe County lawsuit accuses at least 25 restaurants of carrying out offenses including money laundering and falsifying tax documents. It doesn't detail the allegations.

No criminal charges have been filed stemming from the November raids and the investigation continues, Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington told the Journal & Courier.

The raids involved several El Rodeo restaurants in the Lafayette, Indianapolis and Richmond areas, along with restaurants under the El Jaripeo, Los Toros or La Carreta names around Indianapolis, northwestern Indiana and Vincennes in southwestern Indiana.

The Associated Press left a message Wednesday seeking comment from Richard Kiefer, an Indianapolis attorney for the restaurants.

Jose Bustos, manager of the El Rodeo restaurant in West Lafayette, is named as one of the individual defendants. He said he wasn't aware the lawsuits had been filed.

"I don't have any comments right now because our lawyers are still working on it. They don't tell us anything," Bustos told the Journal & Courier.

State Attorney General Greg Zoeller said that to win the civil forfeiture case, prosecutors must prove that the money was obtained illegally.

"The object of civil forfeiture is to take away the ill-gotten gains and put [the assets] into the criminal justice system," he said.

The lawsuit also asks that the defendants be ordered to give up any interests in the named restaurants and that the owners be prevented from reorganizing their businesses.

The suit seeks the revocation of any professional licenses the defendants obtained from the state.

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  • Follow the Law
    There is some question whether the civil forfeiture law is even constitutional as Indiana's constitution says that the Common School Fund will be made up of ALL forfeitures. Nonetheless, even if it is, the law says law enforcement can only keep civil forfeiture proceeds to offset costs of the action and the rest is supposed to go to the Common School Fund. From my research, the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor was one of those not turning over the money. Same with the Marion County Prosecutors and virtually every county prosecutor in the state. They're simply pocketing 100% for themselves and the law enforcement agencies in their county. It's a shame that people who take an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution are so willing to violate it.
  • Countersue
    Sounds like the prosecutors were targeting latino businesses. I'd consider a 1983 counter action if I was their attorney.
  • Civil forfeiture abuse
    Civil forfeiture laws are routinely abused in this state. Don't know what's going on with El Rodeo, but money and property can be seized before a criminal case is even filed. Google it and see how the laws enrich police departments and even private attorneys.
  • *
    By filing a lawsuit - which they did.
    • How..
      How can you take and keep money if charges haven't been filed ??

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