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Crime Pays, But Criminals Must Repay Everything in Forfeiture

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 14, 2012 12:49 PM

Those who say that crime doesn't pay are either lying or misinformed. Crime can pay very well.

The more accurate statement is that criminals can be forced to forfeit the considerable fruits of their labor if they are convicted.

Which is what happened in today's Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals case.

(The legal events in this case span 18 years, so try to keep up.)

After Claude Duboc pled guilty in 1994 to drug trafficking and money laundering, a district court ordered Duboc to forfeit $100 million in proceeds from his crimes, along with a list of specified assets, including automobiles, bank accounts, and real estate. Duboc, according to the court, must have bought all his belongings with drug money because he had no legitimate source of income.

The district court retained jurisdiction so that the government could move for amendments to the forfeiture.

In 2000, Thailand "restrained" two condominiums that Duboc owned in Thailand for the U.S.

Eleven years later, the government moved to amend a 1999 forfeiture order to include the Thailand condos, claiming that they, too, had been purchased with drug money. The feds also argued that collateral estoppel barred Duboc from relitigating the forfeiture.

The district court amended the forfeiture order accordingly.

Duboc challenged the forfeiture action on four grounds, but we're focusing on his claim that the amendment to the forfeiture order was barred by the statute of limitations or the doctrine of laches.

Duboc argued that any suit or action to recover any "forfeiture of property accruing under the customs laws" must be brought within five years of the time when the offense was discovered. The Eleventh Circuit, however, noted that the five-year limit applies to in rem civil forfeiture proceedings, not in personam criminal forfeiture judgments, and that even if the state of limitations were applicable, it would be tolled because the Thailand condos weren't in the U.S.

Duboc's laches argument also failed because the U.S. is generally not subject to the defense of laches when it enforces its rights. Finally, the appellate court reminded Duboc that a district court can amend a criminal forfeiture order "at any time" on a motion by the government.

Criminal pursuits can be lucrative, but a life on the lam could lead to losing it all in civil forfeiture.

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