The US Attorney for a region is part of the US Department of Justice and is tasked with prosecuting federal crimes in that region. They have a lot of power and some of them have developed a reputation of using that power in ways that infringe on the rights of people to due process.
For example Carmen Ortiz, the US Attorney for the Boston area, has been harshly criticized for her role in persecuting internet activist Adam Swartz to such an extent that he committed suicide.
In our own area, US Attorney Steven Dettelbach has been accused of overzealousness in the prosecution of the Amish beard cutters and of the supposedly ‘terrorist’ plot to blow up a bridge in the Cleveland area.
Now in another case in this area, we see the extent of the power that these prosecutors have. Dettelbach has seized almost all the assets of a local physician Syed J. Akhtar-Zaidi who specialized in pain medication, accusing him of essentially running a drug operation, making money by freely dispensing prescription pain killers without medical justification.
(Disclosure: The reason I became aware of this case is that I was told by the daughter of this physician who was a student at my university and is someone whom I like and admire. She sent me a Change petition about the case. You can read an article about the case here but beware that it is based entirely on the government’s side of the story. Make sure that you also read the comments where other points of view are expressed.)
The problem of people being addicted to prescription pain killers and finding ways to illegally obtain them is a serious one. But what happened in this case is that the prosecutor has seized all the bank accounts of the physician and even the jewelry and personal belongings of his wife and children pre-emptively, claiming that they are the profits of his drug dealing. As a result, he has no money to live or mount a proper legal defense to get the money back and has had to sell his house.
The fact that the US Attorney has such power is a disturbing thought. In a judicial system where there is a presumption of innocence, there has to be a system by which people are not punished before they are even charged, let alone convicted, by having all their belongings seized. While the prosecutor may have legitimate concerns that someone might use ill-gotten gains to flee, that should not be a reason to incapacitate people, who might turn out to be quite innocent, from defending themselves. Perhaps some system in which the money is put in escrow to be dispensed by an impartial third party for legitimate expenses such as living expenses and legal defense should be instituted.