Department Of Justice Transfers $198,556.91
Kevin J. O'Connor, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut today presented a check in the amount of $198,556.91 to the Branford Police Department. The monies represent the Branford Police Department's share of the net proceeds of the settlement of two federal civil forfeiture cases that stemmed from a cocaine distribution operation based out of a residence in Branford, Connecticut.
In March 2003, the Branford Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration began an investigation into alleged illegal drug activity at 39 Knollwood Drive in Branford after receiving a tip that Vincent Gaetano, 64, also known as Jimmy Gaetano, a resident of 39 Knollwood Drive, made large weekly purchases of cocaine and resold smaller amounts of cocaine on a daily basis out of his home. The investigation learned that Gaetano's live-in girlfriend, Linda Palmese, was the title owner of 39 Knollwood Drive.
During several weeks of surveillance by law enforcement, Vincent Gaetano was observed meeting others involved in the illegal drug activity. Gaetano would regularly pick up cocaine from another individual, take it to another's residence for packaging, and then to 39 Knollwood Drive where he would hide the packages in a special compartment that Gaetano constructed under a bathroom counter.
On November 7, 2003, officers of the Branford Police Department executed state search warrants at 39 Knollwood Drive and five vehicles. Officers located the hidden compartment under the bathroom counter in the master bathroom and found inside 18 cellophane packages containing a white powder substance which tested positive for cocaine. Each packet contained approximately one gram of cocaine that was packaged for retail distribution. Officers seized $38,820 in cash from Linda Palmese's closet in the master bedroom, and a Charter Arms .38 caliber hand gun from a dresser drawer in the same bedroom.
Inside Gaetano's dresser drawer, officers found the combination to a floor safe that was located in the living room. Once the safe was opened, officers seized approximately $19,993 in cash; a .22 caliber Ward's Western Field rifle, a 12 gauge Mossberg shotgun and assorted ammunition; various papers containing notes about narcotics transactions; gambling records with names, numbers and sports teams' names; and Citizen's Bank statements for joint accounts in the names of Linda Palmese and Vincent Gaetano.
Also during the execution of the warrant, officers found a woman's purse in the kitchen that contained identification and other personal effects of Linda Palmese. The purse also contained a cellophane packet of a white powder substance that tested positive for cocaine, similar to the packets found in the hidden compartment in the master bathroom.
Gaetano was placed under arrest and charged with possession of narcotics, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, illegal gambling, criminal possession of a firearm, and conspiracy and possession of drug paraphernalia. Palmese was also arrested and charged with possession of narcotics, possession of drug paraphernalia, and conspiracy.
Within days, officers of the Branford Police Department executed state warrants for six Citizen's Bank accounts, held in the names of Vincent Gaetano and/or Linda Palmese, and a safe deposit box in the name of Linda Palmese at Citizen's Bank in Branford, and seized the funds contained within.
Shortly thereafter, the federal government initiated civil forfeiture proceedings against both the 39 Knollwood Drive property and $400,340.76 in seized funds from the residence, bank accounts and safe deposit box.
On January 11, 2005, Gaetano entered a plea of no contest two state charges, possession of narcotics with intent to sell and convicted felon in possession of a firearm, and was sentenced to four years and six months of incarceration and three years probation on each count to be served concurrently. Linda Palmese participated in a court program that resulted in the dismissal of all of the charges against her.
In settling the two forfeiture cases, the United States agreed to return $150,000 of the seized funds to Linda Palmese and Vincent Gaetano, and to dismiss the case against 39 Knollwood Drive. In exchange, Palmese and Gaetano agreed to the forfeiture of the remaining currency in the amount of $250,340.76. The $198,556.91 that the Branford Police Department today received represents 80 of the forfeited funds, after the deduction of expenses.
Under federal forfeiture laws, the Branford Police Department is required to use the funds for law enforcement purposes.
"It is always gratifying to turn something negative into a positive," U.S. Attorney O'Connor stated. "The federal government is pleased to transfer to the Branford Police this money that will be used to fund future law enforcement activity. Everyone should know that when you commit a crime, you not only risk losing your freedom, you risk losing your property, as well."
"We appreciate, and gratefully accept, this substantial amount of money," Branford Police Chief Robert W. Gill said in accepting the check from U.S. Attorney O'Connor. "We sincerely thank the U.S. Department of Justice. This money- and continued cooperation between the Branford Police, DEA, and all federal law enforcement- will help our Department's fight to rid Branford of all illegal drug activity."
These forfeited funds were transferred to local, state and federal law enforcement through the Department of Justice's "Equitable Sharing Program," which is administered by the United States Marshal Service. Each agency that participates in the program is required to use the funds for law enforcement purposes.
U.S. Attorney O'Connor praised the work of several detectives and officers of the Branford Police Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and for their efforts in this case. U.S. Attorney O'Connor also noted that work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie G. Turbert and David X. Sullivan, who handled the forfeiture proceedings and settlement for the Government. The criminal case against Gaetano and Palmese was prosecuted by Jack Doyle of the New Haven State's Attorney's Office.
The Department of Justice asset forfeiture program has three primary goals: To punish and deter criminal activity by depriving criminals of property used or acquired through illegal activities, to enhance cooperation among federal state and local law enforcement, and to produce revenues to enhance forfeitures and strengthen law enforcement.
The Department of Justice Equitable Sharing Program is designed to enhance cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement through the sharing of proceeds resulting from federal forfeiture. State and local law enforcement agencies receive equitable sharing revenues by participating with federal law enforcement in joint investigations that lead to the forfeiture of property. The amount that is shared with state and local law enforcement is usually based on each agency's level of participation in the case.