You Can Leave, But Only if You Own the Hotel

When is it particularly hard to be a small business owner When the local and federal government claim that you materially benefited from the wrongdoing of customers over which you had no real control. George Will has the story:

Russ Caswell, 68, is bewildered: “What country are we in?” He and his wife, Pat, are ensnared in a Kafkaesque nightmare unfolding in Orwellian language.

This town’s police department is conniving with the federal government to circumvent Massachusetts law — which is less permissive than federal law — to seize his livelihood and retirement asset .

Why, you ask? Because in the last 17 years or so, 30 people dealing drugs have stayed at the hotel which he inherited from his father and which he and his wife have run for decades.

The government says the rooms were used to “facilitate” a crime. It does not say the Caswells knew or even that they were supposed to know what was going on in all their rooms all the time. Civil forfeiture law treats citizens worse than criminals, requiring them to prove their innocence — to prove they did everything possible to prevent those rare crimes from occurring in a few of those rooms.

Oh, and the Caswells have done everything they’ve been asked to (including some things which border on the scary with regard to their customers’ privacy) to satisfy the government’s desire to deal with the crime it sees at the hotel.

I thought we were a country where it was better that a few guilty got off than one where the innocent were punished. Apparently, so did the Caswells.