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The Garland County prosecutor's office and the trust holding a security interest in Royal property the prosecutor's office seized and auctioned off are at odds over the disposition of the sale proceeds.

The controversy involving the $165,000 from the December sale of 14 acres on Ragweed Valley Road the prosecutor's office has said was linked to a substantial marijuana cultivation enterprise is playing out against the recent passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2019.

The new law requires the person from whom property is seized be convicted of a felony related to the seizure before a forfeiture claim is granted. Courts can waive the requirement for numerous circumstances, including if the owner failed to file a timely response to the forfeiture claim or agreed in writing to their property being expropriated without an accompanying criminal conviction.

Many of the forfeitures granted to the prosecutor's office result from default judgments, with owners failing to respond to civil complaints within the allotted time. Some are granted as part of plea agreements or other arrangements.

"This office will always act in accordance with the laws of both the state of Arkansas and the United States of America," Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence said in a memo she sent in response to a request for comment. "We follow all criteria as set forth by both government entities in regard to civil forfeiture matters. If the laws change, we will then, most certainly, follow the laws as amended."

A November 2016 agreement allowed Don and Silvia Martin, owners of more than 30 acres on Ragweed Valley Road, to avoid prosecution by deeding the property to the prosecutor's office.

The property was sold at auction in December, but proceeds from part of the sale remain in the court's registry. A trust has claimed a security interest of more than $180,000 as of the end of last year, but the prosecutor's office has said in court filings that the trust refuses to show proof of how much is owed on the mortgage.

A letter the prosecutor's office sent an attorney for the trust in April 2017 acknowledged a $100,000 security interest. Letters attorneys for the trust have sent the prosecutor's office claim $180,492 in principal and interest accruing at 10 percent a year since September 2016 was owed as of Dec. 7.

The unencumbered portion of the property sold for $98,450, according to a deed filed Dec. 21.

"This case is still a pending civil matter," Lawrence said in the memo. "I cannot comment further on this open case. Once all matters related to both parcels of property on Ragweed Valley Road are legally concluded, a press release will be issued."

Eighty percent of the proceeds from property seized by the prosecutor's office go to the 18th Judicial District East Drug Task Force, the multiagency unit focused on interdicting the supply and distribution of drugs in Garland County.

Vehicles and other items the prosecutor's office seized and sold at auctions in 2017 and 2018 raised almost $180,000.

Local on 04/29/2019

Print Headline: Prosecutor responds to new asset forfeiture law

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