Forfeited lottery prize follows law

The pending forfeiture of an illegally purchased state lottery prize to the Medford Police Department has generated considerable criticism. That criticism is misplaced.

State law provides for the forfeiture of the proceeds of illegal activity. The Medford Police Department has no say in the matter.

Forfeiture laws usually make headlines when the crime is drug trafficking, because it is so lucrative. In this case, the criminal act was buying a lottery ticket with a stolen credit card.

Had the ticket been a loser, as most lottery tickets are, there would be nothing to forfeit. As it happened, the illegally purchased ticket was worth a cool million.

Medford police officials initially were under the impression that the prize would revert to the state, and were surprised to learn that the law said otherwise. Jackson County Circuit Judge Ray White ruled that the prize was the "proceeds of illegal activity" under the law and therefore subject to forfeiture.

Most citizens have no problem with the idea that drug traffickers who earn millions in profits from their illegal activity should forfeit those ill-gotten gains. The principle here is exactly the same. The criminal act — buying something with a stolen credit card — yielded $1 million in proceeds for the criminal.

It's worth noting that the police department doesn't stand to collect anywhere near the entire $1 million. The law requires forfeited money to be distributed according to a strict formula: 40 percent goes to local drug treatment programs, 40 percent to the law enforcement agency that seized the proceeds, 10 percent to the state general fund, 7 percent to the Illegal Drug Clean-up Fund and 3 percent to the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee, which administers the forfeiture system.

Therefore, the most the police department will receive will be $400,000, paid in annual installments of $20,000.

What's more, before any money is distributed, public notices must be published for four weeks to allow anyone who feels they have a right to the money to file a claim. The court will determine if any such claim is valid.

The police department has been showered with criticism from many in the community, including some writers of letters to the editor, for its perceived role in the forfeiture proceeding. If those critics don't like the outcome of this episode, they should take it up with the people who write the laws, not the police who follow them.

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