A person from out-of-state who comments here off an on asked me what I thought of a story he came across. It related to the Caswell Motel owned by 69-year-old Russ Caswell.
After looking into it I’d suggest that rather than chasing after people like Sheila Burgess who committed no crime or caused any injustice, if the media is looking for something to do perhaps it could give thought to having a discussion of the Caswell Motel affair. The trial relating to it just ended in federal courthouse that overlooks Boston harbor in South Boston. It was a jury waived trial in front of Magistrate Judith Dein who prior to becoming a judge worked for two major law firms in Boston doing civil work.
The Caswell Motel Affair hasn’t received much media coverage in Boston even though on May 8 of this year George Will wrote about it in the Washington Post under the headline “When The Looter Is The Government.”
The Caswell Motel was built in 1955 by Russ Caswell’s father. It sits on a 4.5 acre property in Tewksbury’s main street. Russ has been running it for 30 years working hard, supporting his family. Like anything that was constructed in the Fifties it has become long in the tooth. The 56 rooms according to some rent for $56 a night or $285 a week but when I Googled Motel Caswell, Tewskbury, I learned rates start at $43.00 a night for two. It rents to tourists, workers on extended stays and some elderly. Six people who stayed there reviewed it for Trip Advisor. One rated it “poor”, the other five “terrible.”
It has fallen a long way since the days Annette Funicello and the Mouseketeers checked in. Now it’s sort of a dump where those down on their luck find a refuge. Russ says that he had an average of 14,000 daily room rentals each of the last fifteen years. He knows he’s not renting to the Beacon Hill crowd but under the law he can’t turn anyone away with a good reason. He takes from it a salary of about $75,000 a year for the long hours he puts in. He hopes to use it to support his retirement.
Russ’s problem began when a DEA cop (probably at the suggestion from the Tewksbury police) was looking for things to seize. This cop found out that the Caswell Motel had no mortgage and that the property was worth between a million and a million on a half. He figured if the feds could take that property from Russ then they could keep 20% of it and give the Tewksbury police 80% or around a million dollars. The DEA cops had no investigations going on there but they figured if they could somehow show that Motel Caswell was being used to facilitate the distribution of illegal drugs they could take it from Russ Caswell.
Recently U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz through her spokesperson Christina DiIorio-Sterling said: ‘‘The government believed that this was an important case, not only for the town of Tewksbury, which has been plagued for decades by the criminal activity at Motel Caswell, but because of the important deterrent message it sends to others who may turn a blind eye to crime occurring at their place of business. The purpose of the investigation was strictly law enforcement-related and in response to the ongoing criminal activity at Motel Caswell that spanned nearly 30 years without any effort by the owner to be addressed.’’
She’s right about one thing, it is an important case. Not for sending any deterrent message but for Russ Caswell who is going to lose his life’s savings and to Tewksbury police who have no qualms about robbing them from him. But what exactly is the evidence that the government presented to show the “decades by the criminal activity at Motel Caswell.”
For that I turn to the ever reliable David Boeri of 90.0 WBUR who seems to be Johnny on the spot when it comes to happenings in our court system always producing reliable and trustworthy reports. He is a standout exception to the big yawn most of our media gives to what happens in our courts. He reports that between 1994 and 2008, a period of 15 years, the government produced evidence of fifteen drug crimes that occurred in the motel among the 210,000 room rentals. These fifteen drug crimes, one incident a year, have “plagued” the town of Tewsbury and turned the motel into, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonya Rao said, a “dangerous property” in the community.
Russ Caswell testified that: “he has never been fined, cited, arrested or told he could be in trouble for any third-party drug activity at his Tewksbury motel until 2009 when the federal government suddenly moved to seize his family owned business under a federal drug-forfeiture law.”
I’ve written before about the duty of a prosecutor and the function of cops. They are not the same. The cops do the grubby, hard and under appreciated work of chasing the criminals; the prosecutor analyzes the work and decides what to do with it. The prosecutor is not supposed to be pushed around by the cops. A prosecutor’s job is to do the right thing regardless of the how much work a cop may have put into a case or how much the cops want to grab property from innocent people.
This case in my opinion is an outrage. Attorney Ortiz has failed in her job when she lets the greed of cops tarnish a hard-working individual so that they can take his life savings. Where is her independent judgment? How does she sleep comfortably trying to deprive a guy like Russ Caswell who worked hard all his life, saved for his future and never had one iota of criminal involvement of his life of his property when 1 out of 14,000 room rentals involved drug activity.
To defend himself Caswell already spent $100,000 dollars. Had not attorneys from the Institute for Justice intervened and worked for free he would have lost the motel by this time. His inability to fight back would have deprived him of his property without due process of law. This is certainly not the America I though I lived in where innocent people are being robbed by the cops and prosecutors.
This is our present day America. The DEA cops are seizing properties when their relationship to drug activities are practically non-existent. The DEA cops and local cops want to deprive honest and upright citizens of their valuable property (the property has to be over $50,000 before DEA will try to seize it) by suggesting they should do the job DEA and the cops should be doing. U.S. Attorney Ortiz lacks the courage to say no to DEA and openly misstates the evidence. A judge had to waste four days of court time listening to this travesty when it never should have reached her courtroom. The media remains mostly silent in face of one of the biggest heists to occur in this area since the Great Brinks Robbery. It’s all pretty tragic.