ATF to crack down on drug, gun seizures

The Justice Department is looking to crack down on weapons trafficking by extending a program that allows agents to seize the property of criminal organizations after arrests are made.

The idea is to ensure that people who were not arrested cannot continue running the illegal operation. 

“The Department of Justice believes that forfeiting the assets of criminals is an essential tool in combating criminal activity and provides law enforcement with the capacity to dismantle criminal organizations that would otherwise continue to function after the conviction and incarceration of individual participants,” the agency wrote in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

This strategy is not new, but the Justice Department has given it a twist by allowing the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to seize the property of drug dealers in an effort to nab gun traffickers. The first year of the program was successful, the agency said, so it is extending it for another year.

The theory is that many gun traffickers also deal drugs, so if the ATF shuts down an illegal drug operation, it may lead them to bigger fish.

“ATF investigations focusing on violent crime frequently involve complex criminal organizations with multiple criminal enterprises, and uncover drug-related offenses in addition to offense within ATF’s primary jurisdiction, such as violations of the Gun Control Act,” the agency wrote.

The Justice Department said ATF seized 339 assets with a value of more than $5 million during the first year of the program in 2013. Seizing the property of drug dealers can help cut off the entire operation, the agency noted.

The ATF's authority to seize properties for drug-related offenses under this program expired on Feb. 25, but the Justice Department is extending it for another year, effective immediately.

Traditionally, the ATF could seize the property of illegal weapons dealers, but drug dealers fell under the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Administration. This program streamlines the effort, so ATF can link drug dealers to weapons traffickers.

They say this will speed up the process and save taxpayer money by avoiding court proceedings in some cases.


“ATF seized both narcotics-related assets and firearms or explosives in approximately 70 percent of the cases in which property was seized,” the agency wrote. “The authority gives ATF the ability to process narcotics related property seized in criminal investigations in which firearms and explosives also are seized.”