City could cash in on dice game money

Published 9:49 pm Friday, June 19, 2015

More than $10,000 seized by Vicksburg police in an illegal gambling game could be placed in the city’s general fund this week, adding to the more than $30,000 that has been forfeited to the city since late 2012.

The cash was seized following a an argument that escalated into a shooting during illegal dice game May 28 at a home in the 200 block of Buena Vista Drive. Five suspects in the case who were charged with misdemeanor illegal gambling are set to appear in Vicksburg Municipal Court Wednesday, Vicksburg police Capt. Sandra Williams said.

Assistant District Attorney Bert Carraway started a civil forfeiture suit but decided to let the city proceed with receiving the money though sentencing orders the case.

“Municipal prosecutors are going to wrap that up as part of the misdemeanor case,” Carraway said.

Williams has said 11 people including three “young children” were in the home when Jonathan Jackson, 27, 207 Starlight Drive opened fire from outside the home. No one inside was injured.

Several handguns were recovered at the scene of the shooting, but police declined to release the number of weapons found. At least one gun had been reported stolen. Williams said it had been stolen from Tennessee in 1980.

Allowing the city to process the forfeiture through sentencing orders will allow all the money to go into the city’s general fund, Carraway said.

In a civil forfeiture case done through lawsuits, the district attorney’s office receives 20 percent of the forfeited money, while 20 percent goes to the state treasury and the remaining 60 percent is turned over to the city or the county’s general fund.

“Hopefully that will work for the city and the city can keep all the cash,” Carraway said

Since Jan 1, 2014, Carraway has successfully sought forfeiture of $29,117.40 — $21,310.40 in 2014 and $7,807 so far in 2015 — for the city as part of an often-overlooked role of the District Attorney’s Office.

“Ninety-nine percent of those we deal with are forfeitures under the Uniform Controlled Substance Act,” Carraway said. “For the most part, we’re trying to take the profits from what litters Vicksburg and Warren County — $20 and $40 crack rocks.”

While the vast majority of seized funds come from these small transactions, the biggest amounts forfeited in one case since 2014 was $5,827 from a pharmaceutical representative convicted of diverting prescription pills, Carraway said. Another $4,608 came from a marijuana case where a man was having high-grade pot shipped in the mail from California.

In 2013, $9,760 was forfeited to the city and county, though the numbers do not provide a breakdown of what went to each agency. Warren County has received no civil forfeitures through the DA’s office in 2015 and received $1,406 in 2014. Two vehicles were also forfeited to the county in 2014.

“For the size of Vicksburg and Warren County, that’s not an indication that drug dealers are running rampant. Some of these guys we see twice. It will happen to them twice in the same year and then we won’t see them again. It’s an indication that officers are doing their jobs,” Carraway said

Forfeitures — especially in drug cases — work as a deterrent by making crime unprofitable, Carraway said. Specifically with convicted drug dealers, many of the forfeitures come from single men who have no legal jobs and are paying no taxes.

“They’re not contributing to the economy or society at all,” Carraway said.

Carraway has also returned seized cash when the money was found not to be the proceeds of illegal activity or in close proximity to a narcotics bust.

“We had one case where it actually was the guy’s paycheck that he had just cashed,” Carraway said

Vehicles and homes can also be seized if they were purchased using funds from illegal activity, though houses are rarely forfeited and there are strict limitations on vehicles.

“If someone borrows your vehicle and is using it to sell drugs, there is an innocent owner exception, but willful ignorance is not an excuses,” he said.

Handguns are possibly the most commonly forfeited item, but no compiled records indicate the number of guns turned over each year. Instead, handgun forfeitures are often attached to sentencing orders issued by Circuit Judges Isadore Patrick and M. James Chaney. In those cases, the guns are turned over to the respective departments that seized them. Depending on the crime, the gun might have to be kept as evidence, disposed of or sold at auction.

In 2012, City of Vicksburg Financial Director Doug Whittington said the police department recieved $58,383.29 from the sale of of more than 900 surplus weapons to Martin & Martin Auctioneers of Mississippi in Brooklyn. The city sold the guns and traded in an additional 582 weapons to purchase new firearms for the police department.

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the combination of the money from the weapons sale and the $66,000 the city received in trade for the old weapons enabled the police department to buy weapons.