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Tiny Fla. police department's cash task force shows increased used of forfeiture nationwide

  • FILE -In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, owner Russ Caswell stands outside his Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Mass. Caswell is fighting to keep the federal government from taking his motel under a law that allows for forfeiture of properties connected to crimes. The government does not claim that Caswell committed any crimes, but claims there is drug-dealing among the motel's guests. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)The Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, owner Russ Caswell reaches for a room key behind the front desk of the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Mass. Caswell is fighting to keep the federal government from taking his motel under a law that allows for forfeiture of properties connected to crimes. The government does not claim that Caswell committed any crimes, but claims there is drug-dealing among the motel's guests. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)The Associated Press

Law enforcement agencies across the country are increasingly using forfeiture laws to seize cash and assets from suspected criminals and also some people with little connection to crime.

The 30-man police force in Bal Harbour, Fla., recently came under fire from the Justice Department for how it used millions of dollars in forfeiture proceeds from drug investigations. The town has had to return some $1.2 million and may have to repay more.

Critics say police focus increasingly on seizing assets because they get to keep the money. Some state legislatures are looking at new laws to give people more rights in such cases, particularly when they aren't charged with a crime.

The Justice Department's forfeiture program has grown $297.5 million in payouts in 2006 to almost $454 million in 2012.