WBUR

Judge Dismisses Government Seizure Attempt Of Tewksbury Motel

On Nov. 9, owner Russ Caswell stands outside his Motel Caswell in Tewksbury. (Winslow Townson/AP)

On Nov. 9, owner Russ Caswell stands outside his Motel Caswell in Tewksbury. (Winslow Townson/AP)

BOSTON — In what is being called a triumph for property rights, a federal judge in Boston has rejected the federal government’s attempt to seize a family-owned motel in Tewksbury under a controversial civil forfeiture law.

The owners of Motel Caswell have never been charged with any crimes and have never come under police suspicion. But in a trial last November, the U.S. attorney’s office sought to take the property because it alleged the motel — the building — had “facilitated” drug crimes.

“I’m in shock right now,” said 69-year-old Russell Caswell Thursday. “Been three and a half years of this garbage. Takes a while to comprehend it’s finally over with.”

Caswell had all his savings tied in the motel that charges $57 a night for a room. He never had any trouble getting license renewals from the town. He’d never received any warnings from the police when he got a letter from the U.S. attorney’s office a few years ago announcing they were coming after his property because of crimes committed by some of his guests.

At trial, federal prosecutors introduced information about 15 specific drug-related incidents that occurred in a 14 year period. “It should be noted” wrote Magistrate Judge Judith Dein in Thursday’s decision, that during that time period, Caswell had rented out 196,000 rooms.

“I don’t know how I can see through the doors,” Caswell said last November in reference to the fact that those alleged crimes took place in closed rooms.

Now, even after winning, Caswell can’t forget his years under threat.

“You’ve just been going through this stuff every day thinking about it, scratching your head like, ‘What the heck is this all about?’ You know? ‘Where’d this come from?’ It’s just hard to believe this stuff can happen to people when you’ve done absolutely nothing,” Caswell said. “And they even say I’ve done nothing.”

The judge concluded that there was no evidence that Caswell knew of any drug activities, which he did not report to the police.

After spending $100,000 defending himself, Caswell turned to the Institute of Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm. Scott Bullock, who defended him, says the judge pulled no punches.

“She saw Russ as someone who did all he could do to try to prevent drug crimes on his property,” Bullock said. “And she recognized he had no control of what people did behind closed doors out of the view of him and his employees.”

Judge Dein faulted the government for engaging in “gross exaggeration,” misstatements of fact and “highly derogatory argument.”

“Punishing Mr. Caswell by forfeiting the Motel obviously would not punish those engaged in the criminal conduct,” Judge Dein wrote.

During the four-day trial in November, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz released a statement saying her office wanted to send a message by going after the motel. But just up the street from the mom-and-pop-run Motel Caswell, the Motel 6, Walmart and Home Depot had all experienced a similar rate of drug crimes, according to Caswell’s attorneys, without the government going after them.

“I mean, the government’s got all the money in the world to throw at these things and they just bully people is what it is,” Caswell said. “And it’s completely wrong. It’s just not American.”

The idea to go after the Motel Caswell sprung from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the trial revealed. The DEA has an agent who testified his job is to seek out targets for forfeiture by watching television news and reading newspapers. When he finds a property where drug crimes occur he goes to the Registry of Deeds. Finding the Motel Caswell had no mortgage and was worth almost $1.5 million, the DEA teamed up with the Tewksbury Police, who were offered 80 percent of the taking, the agent testified.

After widespread criticism following the death of defendant Aaron Swartz, Ortiz has been dealt a second major setback in two weeks. Bullock accuses her of abusing a draconian power of civil forfeiture.

“This case epitomizes what an aggressive U.S. attorney wielding these laws can do to a small and even innocent property owner like Russ Caswell,” Bullock said.

The U.S. attorney’s office says it is reviewing the decision. Having lost its effort to take the Motel Caswell, the government is now obligated to pay for both Caswell’s legal expenses and the legal work of the Institute of Justice, which will come to at least $500,000.

This post was updated with Morning Edition feature content.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003854179878 Orange Sunshine

    So this slippery slope is salted and sanded, at least for now.

  • rog1

    The case was a joke from the beginning, huge over reach by Ortiz.

    Thanks for wasting a half million of my tax dollars…..Good grief!

    • marcus

      They should take the money out of Ortiz’s paycheck!

      • jefe68

        Good idea. She should pony up the damages.

  • hearnow

    I can’t comprehend how Ms Ortiz ever thought this was in any way a justifiable action. If someone is evaluating her performance, and I hope someone is, this says she’s not fit for the job.

    • The Concerned Citizen

      Justifiable? Ha! You make me laugh. Justifiable means nothing to the criminals in the court system. “attainable” or “winnable” may cross their mind but its justified by the fact that she wanted to do it. We’re way too civilized. Its just too bad that government never disapears anyone like this. They probably REVERE her.

  • J__o__h__n

    This is further proof that Carmen Ortiz is a bully focused more on racking up wins than serving justice. She didn’t go after Walmart but tried to seize a small business. I thought “stealing is stealing.”

  • jefe68

    So Carmen Ortiz strikes again. I hope someone who is in charge of this woman’s office is taking note of how she seems to have a history of overreaching and using the law as a weapon for her political gain. She should be fired.

    • mickeymat

      But she is Hispanic. There are different rules. She won’t be fired.

      • jefe68

        That’s absurd. I for one think her days are numbered.

        She’s generating way to much bad press. Over 30,000 people signed a petition for her removal from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

  • saiddy

    carmen ortiz now costs the taxpayers over $500,000 to cover the defendant’s legal expenses?!! is anyone else outraged?

  • cha

    Carmen Ortiz should be fired.

    • neroden

      Carmen Ortiz should be *arrested* for *harassment* and for committing criminal acts under color of law. But she won’t be, because only a grand jury or another federal prosecutor can prosecute a federal prosecutor; the other prosecutors won’t because they’re a chummy criminal club. As for grand juries, they can investigate on their own and prosecute on their own, and are in fact *supposed* to do so, but everyone including judges and prosecutors lies to the grand juries to conceal this fact.

      Because of the odious judge-created, unconstitutional doctrine of “absolute immunity” for prosecutors, she won’t even be subject to a civil lawsuit. A federal prosecutor could murder someone with a gun in open court, and be completely immune from any penalty, under our current corrupt legal precedents.

      • G

        How about the local sheriff arresting her and then trying her in a state court. If the Fed’s object they can go F themselves. If they object with force the Sheriff’s dept should resist with force.

        It’s time for these criminal bureaucrats to be held accountable for their crimes.

  • Robo

    Ortiz needs to be fired.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000685605981 Megan Dickson

    Everyone who lives in Mass should try to get this woman fired. Who know’s when she’s going to target you? She seems to be more focused on the productive citizens than the real criminals. Cite: this man, and Swartz

    • patriot1742

      She is just following Obama’s lead – do not go after criminals – go after people who work and contribute to the country – that scares Obama and his ilk.

      • http://twitter.com/Kristina717 Kristina

        You’re a dumb person.

        • http://www.facebook.com/frank.st.clair Frank St Clair

          I think the dumb person on this thread left a personal insult rather than addressing the issue.

        • patriot1742

          Usually a statement like yours is from a position of weakness – not having the intellect to defend.

        • The Concerned Citizen

          A dumb person would be one that doesn’t realize that, though this kind of things has gone on for a long time, The Kenyan’s administration have ABSOLUTELY NO REGARD FOR THE LAW, unless, of course, they wrote it. Due process also has to be lawful process. Someone needs to end this Ortiz woman’s career. When you have people that break the law, over and over and over and over and do not get punished for it, it becomes time for the people to act. It used to be done with ropes and tree branches. We have other ways today. The unlawful system probably cost this guy 10 years of his life in stress. What a bunch of criminal bastards. Funny how the crimes committed in the hotel don’t really even concern me, its the crimes committed using my tax money that worry me. I’m way more worried about the criminals that “protect and serve” than the other criminals.

        • patriot1742

          Kristina – did you read the article – the article says that an elected official decided that because the owner of the business did not owe any money on the property that this would be someone that they could extort money out of or take the business away from – do you not understand than any government that is able to GIVE you a bunch of stuff without having to work for it – is the same government than can take away property that you own and worked for – please for your own sake learn a little about what is going on around you.

      • IskenderElRusi

        It’s too bad you can’t think of upholding the rule of law, regardless of one’s political views. What if Judge Dein, who obviously took a lot of effort to be fair in this case, is a Democrat? Would it change your opinion of the verdict? What if she is a Republican? Thank God we still have (some) independent judges.

        • patriot1742

          Fact is I have voted for conservative democrats – truth is truth.

      • jefe68

        So this Carmen Ortiz’ overzealous prosecution is tied to President Obama’ administration. Interesting theory but I’m inlined to argue that this kind of thing goes back to GW Bush and the Patriot act. President Obama has not done much in terms of reigning in this awful act, in fact he has supported an increase in it’s strength. However unless you are coming form that point of view, and not using this as some kind of right wing meme against Obama, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

        • patriot1742

          Please read the article before you respond – this was an abuse of power on the part of a liberal democrat – nothing new here – Obama is doing the same thing – going after the rich – because he wants revenge – you people need to grow up.

          • jefe68

            Your dislike of President Obama and his and other Democrats tax policies has nothing at all to do with this case. You’re politically driven diatribes seem to me to be immature so the growing up here is more on how you parse things. That you respond in the manner that you have say volumes about you and your right wing mindset and your immaturity You use the term revenge to describe public policy, talk about someone needing to grow up.

            Back to Carmen Ortiz, I’m all for her being fired as I’ve already stated on this forum. That you have comprehension issues does not surprise me as I’ve noticed a lot of right wing and tea party types seem to possess this trait.

          • patriot1742

            Again for your own good – learn to read – these type actions are coming from the top down – try to get a grip. I am conservative and actually work for a living – I know how the program works.

          • jefe68

            Oh boy.

          • patriot1742

            Yeah – I am one of those people who actually work – try to provide for my family and contribute rather than expect others to do for me.
            Novel concept.

          • jefe68

            That’s nice. What does that have to do with anything being discussed here?
            You seem a bit unhinged. I hope you’re not armed as well.

          • patriot1742

            I know the words are hard for you – so will make it simple – people with skin in the game understand – maybe this will help you otherwise – go to another site.

          • jefe68

            How do come to the conclusion of who has skin the game and who does not? Again what doe that have to do with this story? Nothing.

            You’re so dense that light bends around you.

          • patriot1742

            As I said the big words just confuse you – so go listen the MSM – they always tell the truth.

        • PJ McFlur

          Wake up. Holders leadership cost lives. Hillarys leadership cost lives.. and your beloved Obama signed orders to assassinate 3 Americans in Yemen. Get your head out of your ass.

          • jefe68

            You are such small minded little person.

            As to words, how about this nice list of synonyms that do describe a person of your ilk so well:
            abhorrent, abominable, annoying, awful, beastly, big mouth, detestable, disagreeable, dislikable, displeasing, foul, hateful, heel, horrid, insufferable, invidious, loathsome, mean, nasty, nauseating, objectionable, odious, pain in the neck, pesky, pestiferous, pill, repellent, reprehensible, repugnant, revolting, sickening, and last but not least, unpleasant.

          • PJ McFlur

            It beats being you by miles. Did it hurt when your daddy put it in, or did he spit on it first?

      • wygit

        Right, because we never had civil forfeiture before 2009.
        Oh, wait, it goes back to Reagan? Never mind. OH LOOK! OVER THERE!

        • patriot1742

          PS – President Bush went before the democrat controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac group eight times and all eight times he was told – not a problem – this economy belongs to Obama – please try looking at facts rather than the MSM.

          • wygit

            WTF does that have to do with civil forfeiture, or this case or, um, anything?

      • gorilla monsoon

        Actually, I diagnose you patriot1742 as another right wing Repuglican. Wake up and pay attention to the truth.

        • patriot1742

          Actually you have very little insight – and you really do not know how to spell – pay attention – I am guessing you are the one who voted Obama and just discovered he is a fraud – maybe not – your thoughts betray you – grow up – do better than your third grade response.

          • gorilla monsoon

            I have come to the conclusion that you are a mental defective. Republican–Repuglican are all the same. President Obama is far from a fraud. Thank heavens your Romney now has plenty of time to count all his money. And I suggest that you try a bit of Valium to tone down your absurd rage.

          • patriot1742

            Ah 3rd grade how much you really need to get beyond your childish immature state – maybe you cannot – but what part of fraud do you not understand. We have an embassy under attack and the wanna be kings response is “take care of it” while I leave for Vegas and for 6 hours he is out of touch. Then his response is “it happened because of a You Tube video” – please grow up and look at the facts. Not one word last night about protecting our people around the world.

    • G

      She should arrested, charged, tried and convicted of tyranny and then sentenced to death.

    • paulthecabdriver

      fired? FIRED?? you want her FIRED?? How about indicted and jailed! This woman is a corrupt, evil, smarmy little (female dog), who does not care one iota about the people she goes after. The founders of Massachusetts would have tarred and feathered this harpy and ridden her out of town on a rail.

  • Unluckyimmortal

    As a MA resident, I don’t think I’ll be voting for Ortiz when she runs for whichever open office she supposedly plans on running for — Governor or Senate. I think the past couple weeks may have (hopefully!) torpedoed any potential political career for her anyway.

  • Concerned

    Any time you have a state or federal agency that is incentivized – funded! – by levying fines or taking property, you have an inherent conflict. Inevitably they will use their power for the wrong reasons. The testimony of the DEA agent tells it all. Caswell should get treble damages for this.
    The debacle with NOAA and the Department of Fisheries yielded the same result for the same reasons in the fishing community.

    • neroden

      For that reason, fines and seizures need to go into the general fund, not to the department which collects the money. Same with income from patent filings, etc.

    • mickeymat

      Those rules were created at Obama’s behest. Wake up residents of Massachusetts.

      • Ted

        No, civil forfeiture has been around since the eighties. Remember Miami Vice?

        • G

          That’s right. Then it was known as Reagan’s zero-tolerance policy.

  • EB Ghazali

    I hope Mr. Caswell knows what a hero he is. He could have rolled over to avoid an expensive trial, but fought the charges instead. He has done a great service for our country and I wish I could thank him in person. He might be the nail in Ortiz’s political coffin, and is part of sending a message to prosecutors everywhere about corruption and abuse of power.

    • suzyf921

      Well said – it seems Mr. Caswell has taken one for the team and I’m glad to know we (taxpayers) are reimbursing him for his troubles. Shouldn’t have come to that, but since it did, at least he will get some compensation for his expenses. Hope he leads a happy life from here on out, untroubled by overzealous prosecutors and greedy police!

  • http://twitter.com/datsneefa Jim Terwiliger

    Carmen Ortiz should be deported to Syria

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronald.putnam.7 Ronald Putnam

    Basic,The second is under attack.If citizens lose just one of their rights,this Nazi style goverment will sweep in and take all rights away from citizens!Beware America!

  • Droogins

    “the motel — the building — had “facilitated” drug crimes.”

    Uh, no. The dealers and the customers facilitated the drug crimes. The building provided four walls and a little privacy. Any private space can be considered a drug crime facility if that’s what people want to do. I could make some snarky comment about the presently occurring Federal assault on “private space” as such, but I won’t.

    I grew up in Tewksbury. Everyone knew what went on at the Caswell. It’s an epicenter of drug crime in an otherwise quiet town. But shut it down and the whole thing just moves to the Motel 6 hardly a mile away. What could they hope to accomplish by shutting the Caswell down?…..

    “Finding the Motel Caswell had no mortgage and was worth almost $1.5
    million, the DEA teamed up with the Tewksbury Police, who were offered
    80 percent of the taking, the agent testified.”

    …. Oh.

    I knew the local cops were stretched thin, but I never figured they’d resort to looting local businesses as a fundraising tactic.

  • Lynda Felts

    The feds waste much more of our money than most people are unaware of. Those PSA’s on every thing but nail clippings: WE PAY FOR. Nauseating.

  • BarryG

    Oritz needs to be removed from office “as a message” to corrupt prosecutors.

  • idoubt

    the public “servants” on our dime fight us 99% for 1% all day every day. all in our name. i’ve seen more than enough of them. infuriatingly, it forces me to agree with “government is evil” simpletons.

  • Guest

    This is nothing more than conspiracy to commit robbery by the US attorneys
    office and the Tewksbury police. Ortiz is playing a very dangerous game by
    destroying peoples lives for profit. Sooner or later she is going to pull this
    with the wrong person and wind up very dead. She is going to try this with
    someone on Zoloft or Fanapt and be in for a very rude surprise that there
    are consequences for this kind of abuse of authority.

  • Lexi

    Ortiz also went after the attempted seizure of the Tewksbury Motel in Boston. Took three years out of some poor 69 years life and thank God, the good Judge dismissed the case.

  • http://twitter.com/suebasko Sue Basko

    CARMEN ORTIZ? The one whose acts led to the death of Aaron Swartz! This prosecutor must GO!

    • http://www.facebook.com/idremhd Brad Mulcahy

      You are so ridiculous. Aaron Swartz broke the law, and he was charged with a crime. Don’t like the laws? Get them changed, but don’t put the blame on a District Attorney for doing their job. The freaking kid would have gotten a probation before judgment. He was never going to do serious time. If he can’t handle it, it’s on him. Thousands of people get charged with B.S charges every month in America, but they don’t kill themselves.

  • been there

    I spent many a night at the Caswell back in the 60′s and early 70′s . and have great memory’s of my time there as a young man. the caswell family did not deserve this BS. The town of tewkbury have wanted them shut down for years.( it has always been the local place to bring daddy’s little girl for the night) The Motel 6 right up the street is a drug and welfare haven supported by the state.child sevrices and the federal gov ssdi recipeints.

  • gordon_wagner

    How is what the DEA and Ortiz did not a crime in an of itself? Someone seriously explain that one to me — the DEA cherry-picked this property because it was free and clear and the owner didn’t have a gold mine in his backyard to pay for lawyers? Honestly, how is it that the DEA goons who dreamt that up and Ortiz are not in prison? WHAT THEY DID WAS A CRIME and it’s a safe bet that the case wouldn’t have been dismissed without the attention Ortiz et al received after Swartz’s death.

  • Paris

    ” the building — had “facilitated” drug crimes” If that’s the case then they should sieze Washington DC

    • G

      They already have. That’s the problem

  • http://www.facebook.com/martintfre Tom Martin

    Kleptocrats .thiefs with badges.

  • http://twitter.com/OccupySk8 Gerald

    This Carmen Ortiz gives a bad name to all the other Carmen Ortiz persons out there.

  • oooBooo

    This is not one bad individual. This is not an isolated incident, not even to this government department. Pretending it is will not fix anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=771257967 Mike Rollins

    Yet another reason why Carmen Ortiz deserves to be fired, and perhaps even prosecuted for human rights abuses.

  • tthor

    The Evil: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz

  • Blaffles Blaffles

    “The DEA has an agent who testified his job is to seek out targets for forfeiture by watching television news and reading newspapers. When he finds a property where drug crimes occur he goes to the Registry of Deeds. Finding the Motel Caswell had no mortgage and was worth almost $1.5 million, the DEA teamed up with the Tewksbury Police, who were offered 80 percent of the taking, the agent testified.”
    This is just plain racketeering, pure and simple. The state needs to file suit and throw in RICO charges. Get as many state DA’s included as possible since they are doing this to small businesses throughout the country. Bring down the DEA for good and slap big time damages on local police who “cooperate”. Gangsters and thugs run amuck!

  • Krughe Viciente

    Need to Investigate further. Sounds like mafioso tactics from the U.S. attorney office.

  • Joets Docson

    Ok, so all of us citizens should take America and the White House from the government, since they are guilty of ‘facilitating drug crimes’ in the country, letting big Pharma push it’s poison. I call for a move to storm the White House!

    And I also agree with Saiddy, this costs the tax-payers money for this idiotic move by the feds, people should be mad about this sort of stuff even though you weren’t the ones brought up on charges…

  • Rose Roberts

    Judge Dein for president. Sensible. Balanced and fair. We congratulate her.

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