After waiting more than two and a half years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has finally agreed to return nearly $250,000 to Michigan resident John Gutowski. The money was seized in 2013 as part of an investigation in which Gutowksi was accused of conspiring to help tenants in his apartment buildings commit marriage fraud.
According to the Associated Press:
In a 2013 court filing, the government said it found an unusually large number of suspicious marriages among residents of Gutowski’s suburban apartments, including 23 requests for changes in immigration status at one complex between 2003 and 2012…
Gutowski, who emigrated to the U.S. from Poland as a teenager, helped other immigrants from Eastern Europe by offering them a place to live in his apartment buildings. He said that “friends in the restaurant business occasionally reached out to him for affordable housing for immigrant employees.”
Although the government dropped the charges against him within a few weeks, due to a lack of evidence, it attempted to forfeit his nearly $250,000 on the suspicion that it was the result of illegal activities.
Reflecting on the case, Gutowski told the Associated Press:
They considered me guilty, and I felt I had to prove I was innocent…I always felt if you work hard and pay your taxes, nobody’s going to bother you. I don’t feel that way anymore.
According to IJ’s report on civil forfeiture, Policing for Profit, the federal government’s use of forfeiture increased by more than 1,000 percent between 2001 and 2014. Although in January 2015, then-Attorney General Eric Holder issued reforms to the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program, those reforms were limited to equitable sharing. The federal government still has a perverse profit incentive that needs to be reformed if not ended.