By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski
PENDLETON Being a drug trafficker in Umatilla County is going to cost you more than you bargained for.
With drug trafficking getting more and more expensive to prosecute, Umatilla County, District Attorney Dean Gushwa has brought back the criminal forfeiture program. The program allows certain law enforcement agencies to seize cash and property from drug dealers and makers. In the past, the criminal forfeiture program has not been used. Gushwa says this is an untapped source of revenue for the county.
"As we target these drug traffickers, there's no reason to give them back their money," Gushwa told the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners last week. "After these guys are out, we're having to give these guys this money back with interest."
Part of the reason for the return of the forfeiture program is to help pay for a new office assistant position, which the board approved. That person will lend support to the two deputy district attorneys whose caseloads are growing due to Measure 11, elderly assault and sexual assault cases.
Another reason for the forfeiture program is to help pay for a Level 2 deputy district attorney position. The commissioners did not approve that move due to concerns about funding the position in the future.
The commissioners were in full support of the forfeiture program.
"If you use your car, if you use your house, if you use your money in Umatilla County for illegal drug purposes, we (want) to seize it," said Commissioner Bill Hansell.
The new office assistant position will add a fourth assistant in the Pendleton office, which also has six attorneys and a receptionist. At the Stafford Hansell Government Center, there are two deputy district attorneys assigned as well as a receptionist and two office assistants.
Gushwa says it is difficult to determine how much money the department will see with the forfeiture program, however he expects it to be high enough to pay for the office assistant position and have a positive influence on his budget. Last year, there were 920 drug related cases through the Umatilla county court system.
Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at email@example.com.