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Senators Sue Albuquerque Over Forfeitures

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - Two New Mexico state senators sued Albuquerque on Wednesday for continuing to seize property from people suspected, but not convicted, of crimes, in defiance of state law.

Albuquerque used civil forfeiture to seize more than 1,200 cars in 2014, generating $1.2 million in revenue, most of which went to the Police Department and to city prosecutors. In some cases, the alleged crime had not been committed by the property's owner.

"Between 2010 and 2014, the program seized over 8,300 cars - approximately one car for every 66 residents in the city," state Sens. Lisa Torraco and Daniel Ivey-Soto said in their complaint in Bernalillo County Court.

Once seized, it can cost an owner thousands of dollars to recover a vehicle.

Civil forfeitures gained widespread attention in 2014 through a video of the Santa Fe Vehicle Forfeiture Conference, in which attorneys discussed the profitability of the practice. The video sparked public outrage, and in March this year the New Mexico Legislature passed the Forfeiture Reform Law - unanimously, in the state Senate. The law took effect in July and bans most forms of civil forfeiture in New Mexico.

But Albuquerque has continued the practice and even plans to expand. The senators say the city has "approved $2.5 million in new bonds to purchase a larger parking lot to hold all the cars the city expects to seize."

Torraco, a Republican, and Ivey-Soto, a Democrat, seek declaratory judgment, a permanent injunctions, and costs.

Neither senator's office responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

They are represented by C. Brad Lane-Cates, of Fairacres, and Robert Everett Johnson with the Institute for Justice, of Arlington, Va.

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