Hampden DA: bill could let drug traffickers protect money with taxpayer lawyers

Hampden DA: bill could let drug traffickers protect money with taxpayer lawyers
Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A bill making its way through the Massachusetts Senate is drawing the ire of Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni. He said it will give taxpayer funded lawyers to drug traffickers who are trying to protect their money in civil forfeiture court.

“This bill affords no respect to those who lost a love one to drug addiction, no respect to our neighborhoods and communities fighting against drug dealers,” Gulluni said.

On Thursday, Gulluni railed against a Senate bill that would change civil asset forfeiture in Massachusetts.

“This bill makes it easier for convicted drug dealers and traffickers to keep the proceeds of their activity,” Gulluni noted.

Senate Bill 2671 would direct proceeds of forfeitures, usually from major drug busts, to the state’s general fund to be distributed, instead of directly to police departments and district attorney offices, which Gulluni said rely on the funds.

“Computer forensic analysis training for prosecutors and police, the hiring of experts for trials needed to convict dangerous and violent defendants,” Gulluni noted.

He said the civil forfeiture cases, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year in Hampden County, also fund the purchase of Narcan, drug prevention programs, and youth programs.

Gulluni’s other major issue with the bill is that it would provide taxpayer funded lawyers to defendants involved in drug cases, in which assets like cars and cash, have been seized.

“The irony here is the money over which they’re fighting the property over, which they’re fighting, it’s tax-free proceeds of a drug deal,” Gulluni explained.

In Massachusetts, public defenders are only provided if there is loss of liberty at stake, which is not the case in civil forfeiture cases. With the state seeing the most overdose deaths ever last year, State Senator John Velis told Western Mass News this bill will only worsen things.

“One of the unintended consequences of this bill is by removing those funds from the DA’s office in a local police departments, who are now using this money to fund a lot of their drug investigations,” Velis noted.

The bill has made it through the Judiciary Committee and Ways and Means. On Thursday, there was a motion to lay the bill on the table, which is a procedural mechanism that means the bill will be considered at the next formal session, which Velis said could be as soon as tomorrow or next week.

Western Mass News reached out to the cosponsors of the bill, but none of them have returned our request for comment.