Massachusetts Civil Forfeiture

United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass.
(The Motel Caswell)
Federal & Local Law Enforcement Agencies Try to Take Family Motel from Innocent Owners


IJ client Russ Caswell and his family have owned and operated the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Mass., for two generations. The Caswells nearly had their property taken from them by local and federal law enforcement officials through a process known as “civil forfeiture."

inequitable JusticeDownload the report: Inequitable Justice


Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.

That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family faced in Tewksbury, Mass., where the the federal government tried to take the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

Seeking to circumvent state law and cash in on the profits, the Tewksbury Police Department teamed up with the United States Department of Justice to take and sell the Caswell’s property because a tiny fraction of people staying there during the past 14 years were arrested for drug crimes. Keep in mind, the Caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property. And during those 14 years, the government pointed to a mere fifteen arrests—out of more than 200,000 rooms rented during that time by the Caswells.

Despite all this, the Caswells could have lost literally everything they had worked for because of this effort by federal and local law enforcement officials not to pursue justice, but rather to police for profit.

The Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm that fights civil forfeiture abuse nationwide, represented the Caswells in defense of their property and their constitutional rights. After a four-day trial, on January 24, 2013, a federal judge in Boston dismissed the forfeiture action against them ruling that the government engaged in “gross exaggeration” of the evidence and did not have authority to forfeit the property. The judge also held that the Caswells were themselves innocent owners of the property that took all reasonable actions to prevent crime on their property.

The U.S. Attorney’s office later announced that it would not appeal Judge Judith Dein’s decision so the Caswells’ victory is now final. The decision is a significant win for property rights, the rule of law, and a hard-working, law-abiding family bullied by the federal government.


Essential Background


Backgrounder: Federal & Local Law Enforcement Agencies Try to Take Family Motel from Innocent Owners

Client Photo

Client Video

Related Video: Policing for Profit

Latest Release: Federal Government Won’t Appeal Massachusetts Civil Forfeiture Case (March 15, 2013)

Related Video: Feds try to take innocent elderly couple's Mom-and-Pop motel

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Court Opinion (January 24, 2013)

Launch Release: IJ Challenges “Policing for Profit” in Massachusetts (October 4, 2011)


Decision denying the MSJ (April 25, 2012)

Case Timeline

Case Filed:

September 29, 2009

IJ Begins Involvement in Case: September 15, 2011.

Court Filed:

United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts


Court Opinion (January 24, 2013)

Government decides not to appeal (March 15, 2013) 

Current Court: 

United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts



Additional Releases

Reports, Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: IJ Scores Major Federal Court Victory In Massachusetts Civil Forfeiture Case (January 24, 2013)

Release: IJ Puts Civil Forfeiture on Trial (October 31, 2012)

Download Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Detail: State Forfeiture Grades and Map IJ's Initiative to End Policing for Profit 

Release: Landmark Federal Forfeiture Case Will Go to Trial: Caswell Family Will Prove Innocence in Court to Save Family Motel (February 13, 2012)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Policing for Profit? Lawmakers, advocates raise alarm at growing gov’t power to seize property Fox News (May 12, 2014)

Article: Tewksbury's Motel Caswell wins forfeiture case The Lowell Sun (January 25, 2013)

Release: Civil Forfeiture Abuse Case to be argued (February 13, 2012)

Article: Judge Dismisses Government Seizure Attempt Of Tewksbury Motel WRBR NPR Boston (January 24, 2013)

Release: Caswells File Motion to End Their American Nightmare of Civil Forfeiture Abuse (November 8, 2011) Article: Motel owners fight federal government to save property; The Boston Globe (November 29, 2012)

Article: Another Drug War Nightmare; San Francisco Chronicle (November 6, 2012)

Article: Setting the Record Straight at the Motel Caswell Tewksbury Town Crier (May 30, 2012)

Opinion: GEORGE F. WILL: When the looter is the government Washington Post (May 18, 2014)

Video: Forfeiture Abuse: Even Your Drums Aren't Safe From the Police; (February 28, 2011)

Video: IJ's Scott Bullock discusses the Forfeiting Justice report; (November 18, 2010)

Video: Fox Business: IJ's Scott Bullock discusses "policing for profit" with David Asman; (August 10, 2010)


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