The Forfeiture Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office prosecutes all asset forfeiture actions brought pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:64-1 et. seq., the State’s forfeiture statute. The primary mission of the unit is to fairly and efficiently forfeit all property seized from defendants within Essex County that can be linked to criminal activity, either as proceeds of such activity or as property used to facilitate the commission of said activity. This is done primarily through the filing of civil “in rem” complaints against the seized property with notice to the defendants. The forfeiture complaints must by law be filed within ninety days of the seizure. Therefore, it is essential that the unit obtain the relevant police reports and other necessary documents in a timely manner.
Over the past several years, the Forfeiture Unit has been using a very effective investigative tool to help identify criminal defendants who are profiting financially from their crimes. FIN CEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) is a computer database of financial records that can be accessed directly from a terminal located in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Official Corruption and Economic Crimes Section, and is operated by an Investigator. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office was among the first in the state to be granted direct access to the FIN CEN system, which is operated by the federal government and overseen by the Attorney General’s Office. Also, in 2000, we were among one of five counties in New Jersey to be invited to join a new anti-money laundering initiative with the federal government (HIFCA).
The use of forfeiture funds obtained by the Prosecutor’s Office is strictly regulated by law. Forfeited monies may only be used for law enforcement purposes as defined by Attorney General Guidelines. The funds cannot be used to defray normal operating expenses such as salaries, leases and other regularly incurred expenses. Training expenses, special equipment purchases, and forensic witness fees are examples of permitted forfeiture expenditures.
In 2016, the Forfeiture Unit, through appropriate civil and criminal process, forfeited $1,368,220, which was determined to be either proceeds or instrumentalities of crime. Of that amount, $1,184,835 was in cash, $152,470 was the value of motor vehicles, and $30,915 was other property, including various items of electronics equipment.