Operation Secondhand Smoke
Cigarette Case Yields Unexpected Results
Boxes of seized contraband cigarettes in a Mississippi warehouse.
Asset Forfeiture Program
The asset forfeiture program is a nationwide federal law enforcement initiative administered by the Department of Justice and made possible by a 1984 congressional act designed to take the profit out of crime.
The use of asset forfeiture in federal criminal investigations aims to undermine the economic infrastructure of the criminal enterprise beyond arrests, convictions, and incarceration. The law provides the legal authority to forfeit the proceeds of virtually all serious criminal offenses, from terrorism and drug trafficking to child pornography and organized crime.
The FBI is one of several federal law enforcement organizations that participate in the program, and in fiscal year 2010, Bureau deposits to the program totaled more than $800 million.
Part of the seized property in Operation Secondhand Smoke was a 100,000-square-foot warehouse located in Tupelo, valued at $1.6 million. Because the Tupelo Police Department played an active role in the investigation from the beginning, that warehouse is in the process of being forfeited to the town, and will become the site of the department’s new headquarters. (The Marshall County Sheriff’s Department, also part of the investigation from the start, stands to receive as much as $1 million in forfeitures.)
“We’re ecstatic about getting a new headquarters,” said Tony Carleton, chief of the Tupelo Police Department, which has 115 sworn officers. The city plans to demolish the old warehouse and build a new building.
Based partly on the relationships built between the Tupelo Police Department and the FBI during the Secondhand Smoke investigation, one of the newest members of our Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Mississippi is a detective from the police department.
“This case really facilitated the relationship between the FBI and the police department,” Cuneo explained. “Everybody worked very hard on this investigation, and the partnerships are continuing to pay off.”
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