In a recent case that was well publicized in Jacksonville and throughout Florida, state law enforcement officials made many arrests of people the state alleged were involved in illegal gambling operations. According to the state, the gambling operations involved internet cafes in cities across Florida and brought in millions in revenue. When the state attempts to make a case like this, it is almost certain that the state has its eye on the seizure and forfeiture of the property belonging to the suspects. This can mean cash, vehicles, bank accounts and even real property.
In this case, the state attempted to seize and forfeit all real property that was purchased with the proceeds of the allegedly illegal gambling activity. If the state can establish that property, such as cash, is the direct result of illegal activity, the state may be able to forfeit that property. Additionally, if the state can establish that property was purchased with money that was the direct result of certain criminal activity, the state may be able to forfeit that property as well. However, the state cannot merely claim that a person was involved in criminal activity that made money over a period of time and then start seizing property owned by that person or even purchased during that time frame. The state has the burden to establishing a connection between the illegal activity and the property, and only certain illegal activity can be the basis for a seizure and forfeiture based on proceeds of illegal activity.
In this case, the attorneys for the defendants and the claimants of the properties alleged that the state did not have sufficient probable cause to seize the properties. The Florida forfeiture laws do not allow the state to seize real properties if the basis is that the real properties were purchased as a result of a violation of gambling laws. The state may seize real properties they can prove were purchased using proceeds from other crimes, such as drug trafficking, but not gambling crimes. If the seizure and forfeiture attempt is based on the gambling laws, the state would have to prove that the real properties were actually used to commit the crimes. For instance, the state might be able to seize a building where illegal gambling took place, but the state could not seize a house that was allegedly purchased with the proceeds of illegal gambling operations.