Things The Government Can (Legally) Steal From You
Here are the shocking things governments can legally steal from you!Knowledge
If you’re like me, you work hard, pay your taxes, and try to stay respectful towards the laws of the land. But just because you wouldn’t steal someone’s car, clothes, or home, doesn’t mean your own government would treat you with that same courtesy.
You don’t believe me? Well, keep reading to find out how governments around the world can, and will, steal practically anything you own, plus a few truly unbelievable historical examples that prove it!
Guilty ‘til Proven Innocent
There’s an old rule that many countries abide by when enforcing their laws: if you’re accused of a crime, you’re innocent until proven guilty. However, this doesn’t always get followed. And sometimes, the government itself is responsible.
Imagine you’re casually driving down the road one day when suddenly the police pull you over and ask if you have any large sums of cash in the car. Would you be worried? Suspicious, perhaps? Because you should be. The cops might only be asking so they can take it from you!
Civil Asset Forfeiture is a law in the United States which gives the police the power to seize any of your belongings. All they need to do is claim your possessions are associated with a crime, and they don’t need any proof whatsoever.
The law was passed so police could quickly confiscate items suspected of being involved in a crime, without having to wait around for the owner to stand trial and be proven guilty first.
They do this by separately charging the property for the crime, as well as its owner. Which sounds weird, but in principle, makes sense. However, it means police also have the power to only charge the property, and take it without charging the owner!
In other words, if they pull you over and see something they like, there’s nothing stopping them from claiming it, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. But if the cases go to court, proving the property’s innocence, that is, whether it really was involved in a crime or not, still falls on the owner.
This has led to some wildly wacky court cases. Like, the state versus a solid gold rooster statue, 50,000 boxes of clacker balls, and even an entire tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton! Some seizure cases seem pretty silly, but unfortunately, the majority are far more worrying. And the courts almost always rule in the cops’ favor.
Between 2001 and 2014, US police seized an enormous $2.5bn of cash in nearly 62,000 seizure cases. Some of that cash was undoubtedly dirty money, but there’s no way all of it was.
In Chicago, the police seem to take anything they can get their grubby little hands on! Like a cashier’s check for a measly 34 cents, an Xbox controller, and even 12 cans of peas! I’m not joking; all these things have genuinely been seized by police.
And remember, the item is suspected of a crime, not the owner. What kind of a crime could 12 cans of peas commit? Furthermore, Chicago cops also stole one man’s Rolls Royce Phantom, and it was worth a wallet-wiping $200,000! I’m really not convinced this was because of a crime. I bet the officer just wanted a spin in a luxury car!
But surely cops don’t get to just keep the items? They’re confiscated, right? Well, brace yourself. Providing law enforcement win the case against the item, over half of all US states allow the cops to sell on the goods and keep all of the profits.
Potentially innocent people are having their belongings stolen to boost staff salaries and make up for deficits in police budgets! So, the more they steal, the more they make! And that’s not even the worst of it!
Those corrupt cops have been caught spending people’s money in much more alarming ways. The DA’s office in Montgomery County, Maryland, used seizure money to buy a margarita machine so they could win a cocktail making competition at the county fair.
Over in Texas, Kimble County’s DA went even further, using the money to pay for the entire staff, their spouses, and the district judge to go on vacation to Hawaii. When you’ve got the judge on your side, seizures must be like stealing candy from a baby
But, sadly, the most conclusive evidence of widespread police robbery can be seen in the profiles of the victims. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 67% of all seizure cases were against black residents, even though they only make up 43% of the city’s population!
What’s more, although three quarters of those cases were cleared of wrongdoing, police kept most of the items anyway! And this kind of racial profiling isn’t restricted to Pennsylvania.
Back in 2007, Ron Henderson, a Latino, was driving along US Route 59 with his girlfriend Jennifer and her two sons to visit his family in Linden, Texas. They had a roll of cash on them to buy a used car with when they got to their destination, but they never got the chance.
Just outside the small town of Tenaha, Ron was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, while there’s no evidence to suggest this violation even happened! Officers searched the car and found the cash, before implying Ron had earned the money from dirty deals, despite his perfectly good alibi.
When they came into the station, Police told them they had two options: Get arrested for money laundering and child endangerment, face jail time, and risk losing their children into foster care, or sign the money over to Tenaha County and continue on their journey.
Yes, that’s literally blackmail. Ron and Jennifer did the only thing they felt they could; they handed over all of the savings they’d worked so hard for.
And they’re far from the only case in Tenaha. In just two years between 2006 and 2008, there were over 140 seizure cases in and around the little town. They weren’t small fry either, in total, local officers took a colossal $3m in cash, alongside all sorts of other possessions.
Most of the victims were either black or Latino, and the whole thing was entirely legal! Even worse, because lawyer fees are so eye-wateringly expensive, most people are forced to just walk away from their money and belongings. Outrageously, this is just a small snapshot of the bigger picture, and it’s happening all across the US.
Taxes are, for better or worse, a part of life. If you’re old enough to pay them though, at least you can take comfort knowing that some of your tax money goes towards the public services you benefit from.
Sadly, citizens of the Chechen Republic, a semi-self-governing region of Russia, don’t have that same guarantee. They pay a monthly tax like the rest of us, but they pay it directly into an unmonitored public fund controlled by the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.
And he has some questionable shopping habits, such as using it to buy 16 Harley Davidson motorcycles for a violent biker gang called The Night Wolves, which he just so happens to be a member of.
Depending on their job, some people pay 10% of their wages into this fund, while others lose half their entire paycheck! Meanwhile, Chechen officials don’t even acknowledge that the dodgy tax exists! Instead, they insist the fund is made from voluntary donations. Which is both untrue and unbelievably cheeky, considering it raises up to a colossal $864m every single year, around two thirds of Chechnya’s entire budget.
That’s far from all though. Kadyrov also used the money for a huge party supposedly celebrating the founding of Chechnya’s capital city, Grozny. Conveniently, it coincided with his 35th birthday. What are the chances?
To celebrate this special day, Kadyrov invited martial artist Jean-Claude van Damm and violinist Vanessa-Mae, with the latter reportedly receiving $500,000 for performing at the event.
And the travesties just keep coming! In 2005, Kadyrov paid a whopping $2m for a sparring session with former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson. You’d have to pay me $2m to even consider getting in the ring with Iron Mike!
Kadyrov claims the fund “provides charitable assistance to citizens in need”, but that’s a load of baloney. It’s just a cover story so the corrupt politician can get away with stealing his people’s cash and using it to fund his own lavish lifestyle!
There’s nothing quite like getting home after a long day and sticking your feet up in front of the TV. But back in 2005, residents of New London, Connecticut, had their enjoyment cut woefully short when the government came over and stole their houses!
They didn’t literally pick their houses up and walk off with them, but they may as well have done! They were acting under something called Eminent Domain, a law that allows the state to take privately owned property and convert it for public use. And it exists all over the world!
Essentially, if the government wants to build new roads or public facilities, but your house is in the way, they can seize it, knock it down, and build what they want in its place! To be fair, they are supposed to pay the homeowner if they do this. However, the case in New London was different.
The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of bulldozing not one house, not two houses, but the entire neighborhood of Fort Trumbull, New London! All so that the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer could use the land instead.
A pharmaceutical company isn’t even a public facility! However, the government argued it’d create new jobs and was therefore in the public interest. Unsurprisingly, there was uproar. But it was no use; the neighborhood was destroyed. And to rub salt in the wound, Pfizer didn’t even use it. The lot remains vacant and desolate even today.
Sure, the people who used to live there got some compensation, but does that excuse this blatant abuse of power? The government literally stole people’s homes, demolished them, then tossed them a bit of money and acted like everything was fine. And they didn’t even do anything with the land!
Luckily, the backlash from the controversial case caused many US states to tighten their eminent domain laws and make it harder for such things to happen again. Even so, eminent domain remains a problem today, and similar cases continue to crop up from time to time, threatening ordinary people in favor of big businesses.
Whether you believe in it or not, many people assign spiritual attributes to gemstones. Amethyst supposedly has healing properties, whereas jade brings good luck and prosperity.
Well, the government of Myanmar must at least believe it when it comes to jade. That’s because the country earns an astronomical $31bn every year from mining and selling the green gem, almost half of all the money they make!
And as one of the poorest countries in Asia, this is a vital income for its people. Or, at least, it would be if government officials weren’t smuggling 80-90% of the jade out of the country into China!
By exploiting a loophole in the law, state officials are colluding with Chinese mining companies and making serious dough by selling the gems abroad. Because demand is higher in China, they fetch better prices.
Because Myanmar’s greatest asset is sold abroad, it’s not subject to domestic taxes. That means the money that should go back into Myanmar’s economy and help its people goes to China instead and into those greedy Myanmar officials’ pockets!
They’ve even tried to cover it up by publishing incomplete and inaccurate data on the country’s mining companies. All the while, actual jade miners risk worryingly high fatality rates due to landslides and poor working and living conditions only for high-ups to pilfer the gem and its profits for themselves!
Peter The Greatest Taxman
Peter the Great was Leader of Russia from 1682 until 1725, and he was responsible for significantly modernizing the country. Some of his methods however were pretty unconventional, however. For instance, Peter believed the key to Russia’s success was beards. Or, rather, a lack of them.
Facial hair was unpopular over in Europe, and Peter wanted to bring Russian society in line with Western European standards. To do so, he went to some pretty wild lengths. At one of his New Year’s parties, Peter genuinely ordered a jester to parade the room with a razor and shave the faces of any nobles who sported a beard.
If anyone refused, the jester was given permission to punch him in the head! That’s not the sore head most people normally wake up with on New Year’s Day. Then, in 1705, Peter actually started charging people for having a beard. That’s right, if you were a bearded man in Russia back in 1705, you’d have been forced to pay a yearly tax in order to stay that way!
And if you weren’t willing to pay? Then you could wave bye-bye to your beautiful chin-child. Police were allowed to forcibly and publicly shave anyone who refused to cough up the dough!
And those that did opt to pay could face charges of up to 100 rubles, which was enough to buy you four top-notch gold and lace coats! On the plus side, anyone who paid to keep their beard did get a really cool token to show off to all their bare-faced buddies.
Russian Orthodox Christians believe that Man was made in the image of God, beard and all, therefore shaving would be blasphemy. Some orthodox Christians who couldn’t afford to pay even kept their beards post-shave in the hope they could use them to repent in the afterlife!
Beard bans weren’t the end of Peter’s Russian restyling though. He also waged a war on traditional Russian clothing, encouraging citizens to replace their long overcoats with French or Hungarian style jackets. In fact, anyone caught walking the streets in an old-fashioned Russian robe risked having the bottom of it cut off by the Tsar’s inspectors.
Pane in the Glass
There’s really no end to how creative a government can get when thinking of new ways to steal your money through ludicrous taxes. William III, former King of England, invented one of the weirdest though.
In 1690, the king’s bank balance was running a little low. So, he decided to issue a tax on windows. Anyone with less than 10 windows was charged 2 shillings per house, or about $18 today, and anyone who had over 10 windows could be charged up to 8 shillings, a whole $71 today!
This was actually quite progressive for its time. The more money you had, the bigger your house and the more windows you had, so the more taxes you paid. But that didn’t mean people were happy about it. In fact, many homeowners began bricking shut their windows to try and avoid the tax, something you can still see in many old English properties today!
However, inner-city laborers felt the effects of it the worst. The peasant class typically lived in long buildings subdivided into apartments known as tenements. But the tax still classified this as a large single building, meaning rent prices had to go up to compensate for the heavy fees.
And the tax carried on for over 150 years! In fact, it became so normal that it’s rumored it’s where the saying “daylight robbery” comes from. The government were essentially stealing the daylight out of people’s homes!
Eventually, it was repealed in 1851 but only because doctors were concerned about people’s health. Tenants in properties with poor ventilation were at greater risk of getting dangerous diseases like cholera and smallpox. They probably only got rid of the tax because there’d be no one left to pay it anyway!
Great Gold Heist
We humans are simple creatures. We like shiny things, which is why we love gold. But one US president loved gold so much, he made it illegal for his citizens to own large quantities of it and forced anyone who did to hand it over to the government! Any guesses who?
If you guessed Franklin D. Roosevelt, then you’d be right! In 1933 he signed an Executive Order, which is like an instant law the president can pass without any approval. This law, labeled Executive Order 6102, forbade the private ownership of gold.
The United States was tied to an international monetary system known as the Gold Standard. This set the value of the dollar on a fixed quantity of gold and was supposed to ensure the currency retained its value.
For just over $20, or about $430 today, you could buy one troy ounce of gold, which is a little more than a standard ounce. Therefore, one dollar was worth just over 1/20th of a troy ounce of gold. For this system to work though, the government had to have real gold in its reserves; and the amount of gold in storage had to be worth 40% of the country’s total money.
However, by the early ‘30s, there was one big problem. The US economy had been crippled by the stock market crash of the decade before! So, to save it, tons more money needed to be printed. And the government needed more gold in order to do this!
For that reason, in 1933, the Executive Order 6102 was issued to reclaim all the gold, and the government did pay people the fixed value for what they took.
But this wasn’t a happily-ever-after story. Once Roosevelt recalled the gold, he increased the price to $35 per troy ounce. Technically, this made the government much richer, they could now print nearly $15 more for every troy ounce of gold they had.
However, there was a cost; the dollar itself lost value! Citizens wouldn’t be able to buy that same gold back for the price they sold it to the government for. So, the government didn’t just steal people’s gold, they also devalued people’s money!
What’s more, the order was only supposed to last as long as the crisis persisted. But it wasn’t lifted until 1974, a whopping 41 years later! And there was nothing you could do to protect yourself, either. If you refused to hand over your shiny stash, you could face up to 10 years in jail or a $10,000 fine. That’s over $200,000 today! So much for “Land of the Free,” right?
That’s Pine, Not Yours
Let’s head back in time and across the pond to 17th century Britain now. During the 1600s, the maintenance of the British Navy was becoming incredibly costly. Not on the banks, but on the forests.
The navy relied on ships and to make ships, you need a hell of a lot of timber. Specifically, timber big enough to make spars from, that’s the long stick part of a ship’s mast.
Because of this, most of the suitable trees in Britain had already been harvested. Thus, the government had to start looking further afield. Initially, they went to the Baltic states, but this was politically treacherous grounds, as their European enemies were also scouring the area for suitable trees.
And it’s not like a tree is the easiest thing to steal. You can’t just walk off with one and hope nobody will notice!
But Britain had a secret ace up their sleeve: their colonies over in North America! A certain tree called the Eastern White Pine grew there, and because Britain governed parts of the Americas back then, they wouldn’t encounter any pesky foreign enemies!
Eastern White Pines were tall, slow growing, and perfectly straight. Those Brits’ eyes must have lit up when they saw them! So, any suitable trees were promptly marked with the king’s broad arrow, which established them as his property.
There was just one small hiccup; the king didn’t actually own any of them! They were private property. Sure, the Brits paid the trees’ actual owners for them, but they paid so little that Americans started selling them to France and Spain to get more money.
This didn’t sit well with the British. France and Spain were enemies. So, they started issuing huge £100 fines for anyone caught doing it. That’s over US$21,000 in today’s money! Therefore, the Americans were forced to hand over what was rightfully theirs at a measly, tokenistic price.
Luckily for us, shipbuilding has come a long way since then, so you don’t have to worry about any crooked kings coming for your backyard. Nowadays, they’ll leaf you alone.
If you enjoyed reading about things the government can legally steal from us you might want to read this article about the sneakiest ways governments control your behavior. Thanks for reading!