An FBI paralegal specialist pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing nearly $160,000 in civil asset forfeiture funds and transferring it to her personal checking account.
Lynn M. Morris, 51, used her knowledge and position within the FBI to embezzle $159,821.90 from the San Diego Asset Forfeiture Unit account between July 2014 and November 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Law enforcement originally filled the account by forfeiting cash and property from suspected criminals, often without a conviction.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly defended asset forfeiture, claiming it’s essential to combating drug crimes in the U.S.
“Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed. It weakens the criminals and the cartels,” Sessions said in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association in February. “Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and makes it the material support of law enforcement.”
Federal authorities took more than $4 billion through forfeiture in 2015, and most states allow departments to keep the vast majority — if not all — of the proceeds from the forfeitures they make. Some argue this creates a conflict of interest. North Dakota and Massachusetts are tied for the worst civil forfeiture states in the U.S., according to an Institute for Justice study. Both received an “F” from the group on the issue, but the rest of the country isn’t much higher. Twenty-one states are tied at “D-” — California received a “C+.”
Morris is scheduled to be sentenced June 4th. She faces a fine of $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.