TEWKSBURY — U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz will not appeal the ruling in the civil-forfeiture case against the Motel Caswell, bringing an end to a high-profile legal battle of more than three years.
“It’s definitely, finally done with,” motel owner Russ Caswell said Friday, shortly after hearing the news from his attorney. “Hopefully they don’t pull this garbage on anybody else.”
Arguing that the Motel Caswell was used to facilitate drug crimes, the federal government sought to confiscate the property under drug-forfeiture laws. In a sharply worded opinion handed down Jan. 24, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein ruled that Caswell was an innocent owner and the prosecution did not prove its case against him.
In the days following the ruling, Ortiz’s office released a statement that the attorneys there were disappointed with the decision and would consider an appeal.
Lawyers at the Institute for Justice, the Arlington, Va.-based libertarian law firm that represented Caswell pro bono, said at the time they would continue to fight for Caswell’s property rights as long as necessary.
Institute for Justice senior attorney Scott Bullock said Friday that the firm and the Caswell family were thrilled with the U.S. attorney’s decision.
“The Caswells are safe, the Motel Caswell is safe from confiscation, and finally, this law-abiding family can have their life back,” Bullock said.
Brandy Donini-Melanson, a spokeswoman for Ortiz, said the decision against appealing was reached after careful consideration and weighing of options.
“Criminal activity at the Motel Caswell has been a concern for law enforcement and we hope that this case has encouraged the property owners to take reasonable measures to address those issues,” Donini-Melanson said in a statement.
In a weeklong November trial, prosecutors 15 cited incidents that took place from 1994 to 2008 to argue that staff at the family-owned motel did not take sufficient action to prevent drug crimes.
The ruling found that the government failed to establish a substantial connection between the crimes and the property on which they occurred.
Dein also wrote that prosecutors presented claims “not supported by a scintilla of evidence” and engaged in “gross exaggeration.”
Caswell said Friday the case against him was the result of overreach and incorrect application of a law intended to punish drug dealers and others who have been convicted of crimes.
“They just distort it as much as they can for their own gain,” he said. “It just spooks you as to how many people they’ve probably pulled this stuff on who couldn’t afford to fight it, so just gave them what they wanted.”
Throughout the dispute, Caswell and his attorneys contended that the government’s case was motivated by an interest in profit rather than in justice.
The Route 38 budget motel, valued by the town at $1,595,900, is owned by the Caswell family with no mortgage. If prosecutors had won their case, the property seized from Caswell would have been sold, with proceeds going to both the federal government and to the Tewksbury Police Department.
Bullock praised Caswell’s tenacity in fighting to maintain ownership of the motel his father opened in 1955.
“He has now through this fight set a precedent that will benefit other property owners in the future, through having Judge Dein’s decision on the books,” Bullock said. “It’s an important victory for him and also an important legacy.”
Although his battle is now over, Caswell said he won’t give up in what he’s come to see as a war on abuse of forfeiture laws. He plans to continue working with the Institute for Justice, hoping to see legal reform.
“Hopefully we can at least be part of the change to prevent this from happening to anyone else in the future,” he said.
U.S. attorney won’t appeal in Caswell case
Tewksbury motel owner sees vindication in property battle
March 16, 2013
The Lowell Sun