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Molinelli donates $7 million from forfeiture funds toward new Bergen Justice Center

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne, Prosecutor John L. Molinelli and Executive Kathleen A. Donovan were among those gathered for a ceremony today memorializing a $7 million donation from Molineli’s seized assets fund toward the construction of the new Justice Center Complex — a move first reported last month on CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Bergen Prosecutor John M. Molinelli (l.), Assignment Judge Peter Doyne (center), County Executive Kathleen Donovan (r.) CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO

“It’s a legacy my office is proud to leave,” Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

A Memorandum of Understanding between the prosecutor and the county outlines the project’s guidelines and how the funds will be spent.

Donovan last month told CLIFFVIEW PILOT she considered the “generous’ donation fitting, given that the county this year is celebrating the complex’s 100th anniversary ( SEE: Donovan promises shared services ).

The $7 million will be used as a down payment for a bond on the project, estimated to cost $80 million.

Besides a new building, the complex will have a parking deck with solar panels, along with an overhaul of the courthouse.

Molinelli has used forfeiture assets to fund a variety of programs. He has helped financially-strapped local police departments study consolidation or obtain needed equipment. A few years ago, he put forfeited assets toward training prosecutors in cybercrime.

Several municipal departments have tapped the forfeiture fund to pay for operational studies that could lead to mergers or consolidations with other departments. Right now, a class of young police officers are taking a graduate course at FDU to help them rise in rank — half of which Molinelli paid for through seized assets.

County taxpayers also were spared the expense of buying the sophisticated C.O.B.R.A. data system, an up-to-the-second database that catalogs crimes, suspects, locations, vehicles and other information that are extremely useful in catching dangerous criminals. Molinelli offered to cover three years’ service, maintenance and licensing for any municipal police department interested. More than half accepted.

Having that much money to play with does have drawbacks. Molinelli two years ago considered using $1.3 million to buy a surveillance plane but decided against it after a slight rebuke by then-state Attorney General Paula Dow.

But a major case just last month promises to swell the county coffers even more:

Two sleek sports cars seized in the takedown of a high-level pot trafficking network by Molinelli’s investigators fetch nearly $300,000 combined — barely a fourth of the more than $1.2 million in total assets seized during the operation ( FULL STORY: Fruits of major Bergen pot bust: Hot cars, $1.2M+ in assets ).

The haul also included a Rolls Royce, Maserati and Mercedes Benz, as well as $250,000 in cash and designer watches, a Range Rover and an Infiniti.

The seizures are legitimate. Under both federal and state civil forfeiture law, authorities can confiscate anything they believe was either used in a crime or was obtained as a result, from cars to houses to bank accounts – even the money a defendant pays his or her lawyer.

It’s been done in prostitution and shoplifting cases but, most often, it involves drug networks.

The owner doesn’t even have to be found criminally guilty. It’s up to that person to prove the assets were obtained legally.

In most cases, that doesn’t happen.

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