POLICE AGENCIES SHARE LOOT SEIZED FROM DRUG DEALERS - The Buffalo News

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POLICE AGENCIES SHARE LOOT SEIZED FROM DRUG DEALERS

Cars, boats, houses, jewelry and cash seized from local drug dealers are proving to be a financial windfall for police agencies in Western New York.

U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Vacco Monday handed checks totaling $72,000 to representatives of six law-enforcement agencies and announced that more than $4 million more may be on the way. The presentations made by Vacco and U.S. Marshal Daniel B. Wright are part of the government's "zero tolerance" attack on narcotics traffickers.

Nationwide, more than $600 million worth of cash and other property has been seized from dealers in the past two years, Wright said.

Two farms, a luxury boat, 25 cars, a nightclub on Bailey Avenue and 17 other buildings are among the property now in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service in Buffalo.

"Including $2 million cash, we've got more than $4.5 million," Wright said. "Up to 90 percent of this money will be eventually funneled back to the police departments that made the seizures."

Critics have attacked the seizures as unconstitutional, but Vacco defended the policy during a morning press conference.

"I disagree with the critics," Vacco said. "The $72,000 we gave to these police agencies today all came from cash taken from narcotics dealers. These traffickers had a chance to fight us in court. In every instance, they declined. They walked away from the money. What does that tell you about their mind-set?

"I think it's a good program because it hits the drug dealer where it hurts him the most -- in his wallet. He's in business to make money, and we're taking that profit away from him."

The Buffalo Police Department received a check for $35,000 -- by far the largest amount handed out during ceremonies in Vacco's office. Other police agencies receiving checks were the Town of Hamburg, Amherst, the State Police, the state Organized Crime Task Force and the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department. Under federal guidelines governing the Shared Assets Program, the agencies that receive money must use it for narcotics enforcement.

"They cannot put the money into their general fund for other uses," Wright said.

Buffalo's Narcotics Squad will use its money to buy vehicles that will be used by undercover officers and expensive, badly needed electronic surveillance equipment, said Buffalo Police Detective Chief Angelo P. Alessandra.

The program sometimes can be difficult to administer, Wright noted.

"In some cases, we've taken over properties that were rented to law-abiding citizens," he said. "We've had to hire caretakers to handle the property and told the tenants the U.S. government is their new landlord."

The government still is trying to sell the old Cotton Club, a lavishly decorated nightclub on Bailey Avenue that was seized after a 1985 drug probe.

"Our latest asking price is $280,000," Vacco said. "We thought we had a couple of interested buyers, but we still own it."

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