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A law that prevents criminal fugitives from contesting the civil forfeiture of their assets applies to people who have never been in the United States but know that entry into the country will lead to their arrest, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. Taking its first look at the fugitive disentitlement provision of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, the circuit said the plain language of the statute makes it clear that disentitlement “extends beyond common-law fugitives” in Collazos v. United States, 02-6324. Stella Collazos, a Colombian national, had been indicted in the United States for running a multimillion dollar money laundering operation from Cali that federal authorities say was used to hide and funnel drug sale proceeds. A total of $1.1 million was seized by investigators in 1996 from an account in Collazos’ name at Prudential Securities in New York. From outside the country, Collazos sent an attorney to claim the seized money. But Southern District Judge John E. Sprizzo ruled that Collazos had no claim on the money because she refused to enter the United States to face criminal charges. The ruling was based on the Civil Asset Forfeiture Act of 2000, 28 U.S.C. �2466. Collazos appealed to the 2nd Circuit, arguing that she was not a fugitive within the common law meaning of the term. She also argued that she was deprived of property without due process. She cited Empire Blue Cross & Blue Shield v. Finkelstein, 111 F.3d 278 (2d Cir., 1997), where the 2nd Circuit, quoting Black’s Law Dictionary, said a fugitive is a person who “having committed a crime, flees from” the jurisdiction of the court where the “crime was committed or departs from his usual place of abode and conceals himself within the district.” Collazos claimed she was not in the United States at the time of the alleged money laundering. She also quoted Strassheim v. Daily, 221 U.S. 280 (1911), where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that, just because acts “done outside a jurisdiction, but intended to produce and producing detrimental effects within it, justify a state in punishing the cause of harm as if [the foreign actor] had been present at the effect � it does not follow that [the person] is a fugitive from justice.” Collazos’ argument failed, 2nd Circuit Judge Reena Raggi wrote, because “Neither Empire Blue Cross nor Strassheim, nor for that matter any other case cited in Collazos’ briefs, deals with the particular disenfranchisement statute here at issue.” Section 2466 states that a judge may prevent a person from using the courts to pursue a claim “in any related civil forfeiture action or a claim in third party proceedings in any related criminal forfeiture” if the judge finds that the person had notice that they were being sought for apprehension and, in order to avoid criminal prosecution, leaves the United States, “declines to enter or reenter the United States to submit to its jurisdiction,” or otherwise evades the jurisdiction where a criminal case is pending. DELIBERATE WAIVER Judge Raggi said “Ms. Collazos argues that Congress could not have meant ‘enter’ to pertain to persons who had never previously been in the United States, or even to persons such as herself whose last visit to the United States predated her alleged criminal conduct by several years.” “This argument, however, ignores the plain language of the two words — ‘enter or reenter’ — employed by Congress,” she said. Raggi added, “Any suggestion that the district court abused its discretion in handling the issue of disentitlement is meritless.” She went on to find that the application of � 2466 to Collazos did not violate due process because “the statute does not punitively deprive a person of the right to be heard in connection with a civil forfeiture.” “Rather, it establishes a presumption that a person who refuses to produce himself in connection with criminal charges relating to the civil forfeiture has no meritorious defense against the latter action,” she said. “Because a person can defeat that presumption by appearing in the criminal cases, a deliberate choice not to do so constitutes a knowing waiver of the hearing otherwise available by law.” Judges Thomas Meskill joined in the opinion. Judge Robert Katzmann joined in the result and issued a concurring opinion. Joel M. Wolosky of Bondy & Schloss represented Collazos. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jane A. Levine and Gary Stein represented the United States.

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