A Virginia sheriff accused of misappropriating more than $20,000 in asset forfeiture funds was convicted on two felony counts of bribery on Wednesday. In a blow for police accountability, former Middlesex Sheriff Guy Abbott was found guilty for bribing two police officers with $420 from the Sheriff’s Office asset forfeiture fund.
Initially, Abbott was charged with 25 felonies, including another charge of bribery, four counts of embezzlement, and 18 counts of misuse or misappropriation of the Sheriff’s Office asset forfeiture fund. As sheriff, Abbott spent more than $4,500 on meals and was accused of abusing civil asset forfeiture to procure a $600 bicycle, a power washer, and three boats, including one used by Navy SEALs.
Abbott was first elected sheriff in Middlesex, Va., in 1999 and was re-elected in 2003 and 2007. According to court testimony, Abbott misused asset forfeiture funds from 2000-2009. Luckily for the Constitution, after Abbott was charged and indicted, he was voted out of office in 2011, losing by less than 350 votes. Now he can face anywhere from two to 10 years in prison for each count of bribery.
In civil asset forfeiture, if police suspect your property was used in a crime, they can seize it and sell it, even if you haven’t been charged with a crime. Or as Radley Balko described it, asset forfeiture is a “license to steal.” According to “Policing for Profit,” a report published by the Institute for Justice on asset forfeiture abuse, Virginia received a D- . From 1996 to 2007, local law enforcement agencies in Virginia seized a whopping $87 million in assets. Civil asset forfeiture proceeds should not be a personal piggy bank for crooked cops. Abbott’s conviction demonstrates there is a pressing need for civil asset forfeiture reform.