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The Government Stole Their Money. Goldwater Got It Back.

October 28, 2022

Guilty until proven innocent. That’s how the government treated entrepreneurial sisters Vera and Apollonia Ward, stealing $17,000 of their hard-earned money even though they hadn’t done anything wrong. Attorneys who could help weren’t returning the Ward sisters’ calls—until the Goldwater Institute stepped in to serve up a dose of justice and get their money back.

Unfortunately, Vera and Apollonia’s story is not unique. They are just two of many victims of civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to take, keep, and profit from someone’s property without even charging them with a crime—much less convicting them of one. The Goldwater Institute is a national leader in fighting this inversion of our justice system—and standing up against government theft on behalf of innocent Americans like the Ward sisters.

You can learn about the Ward sisters’ story in this new video from the Goldwater Institute.

Vera, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Apollonia, of Redondo Beach, California, are entrepreneurs who run a successful dog-breeding business. In late 2021, they were looking to expand—so they sent $17,500 via FedEx to purchase two new dogs. But the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office seized the money, baselessly accused the Wards of drug trafficking, and tried to bully and threaten them into abandoning their claim on their own hard-earned money.

“To me, it felt like being treated like a criminal, even though you’re not, it makes you question everything,” Vera says.

The Ward sisters had all the correct documentation to back up their story. But the government didn’t care.

“They tried their hardest to intimidate us, and to say that we’re basically putting our freedom on the line: ‘Give us this money, we’ll make it go away—or put your freedom on the line for it,” Vera recounts. “That’s such an easy way out. And I just didn’t want to take it.”

In search of legal aid, Vera contacted multiple lawyers, but no one returned her calls. Then she sent an email to the Goldwater Institute.

“They responded back pretty quickly. I felt so relieved,” Vera says. Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Stephen Silverman “made sure that we felt comfortable in knowing that we did nothing wrong, and we were wronged, but we were going to make it right,” she adds.

The Goldwater Institute made it absolutely clear to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office that there wasn’t the remotest evidence of a crime occurring. Within a few months, the government had no choice but to return the money.

Unfortunately, civil asset forfeiture is a common practice—to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of property seized each year. But the Goldwater Institute is fighting back, successfully defending law-abiding Americans like Massachusetts grandmother Malinda Harris and Tucson, Arizona, handyman Kevin McBride—who had their vehicles seized by law enforcement without even being accused of crimes.

Of course, innocent people shouldn’t need legal help just so the government will return property that it stole, especially considering that legal fees often exceed the average currency forfeiture of $1,276. That’s why the Goldwater Institute is also advocating for common-sense legislation like the bill that the Institute passed last year in Arizona, which requires law enforcement to obtain a criminal conviction before forcing citizens to forfeit their property.

Across the country, the Goldwater Institute is working to help innocent Americans beat an unjust system

“We really couldn’t have done this without the Goldwater Institute’s help and support.,” Vera says. “And we want to be a part of the solution and the fight that they’re fighting. This doesn’t end today.”

You can read more about what the Goldwater Institute is doing to take on civil asset forfeiture laws and stop government theft here.

 

 

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