Forfeiting Civility in Tewksbury

caswell-hotel, Teskury Massachusetts
Caswell Hotel, Teskury Massachusetts

The 1st in an ongoing series on the Caswell Hotel

By: Catherine Vanarnum – September, 2012

Imagine a thief who is able steal without sneaking, in broad daylight. “I need it,” he says, and walks off with property that was earned by another, belongs to another. In America, you couldn’t get away with that – there would be consequences, or at least a halt to the theft, you would think.


But consider the very real case of Russ and Pat Caswell and their family. Over six decades they have built a small business that proudly serves as a motel in Tewksbury.


Slowly and carefully, through sweat and smarts, the Caswell’s have maintained a motel that has succeeded through the years. They have now hosted some 125,000 rooms over just the past 20 years. No thief should get away with stealing from them, certainly not stealing their whole motel.


Oh but it’s happening, in broad daylight, by the very people who are tasked with protecting life and property: the Tewksbury Police, the US Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. It is a shameful moment for departments with long proud histories. Surely it must be a mistake, you may think.


What reason could they possibly give? The law enforcement officers are literally claiming that because some of their residents are criminals, the Caswell’s have forfeited the right to their property they earned and maintained over generations.


These customers are individuals. And as any adult is aware, there is a small percent of people who aren’t law-abiding. In this case a meager 0.05%, of the Caswell’s guests who were arrested over two decades. Throughout this time, the Caswell’s have been not only themselves law-abiding, but quite eager, as you’d imagine, to work with local police as they investigate any criminals or possible crimes committed on their premises.


Apparently this is not enough for local government, perhaps especially since the Caswell’s have managed to pay off the mortgage, and now own it in full. They’ve chosen to target a mom-and-pop operation, instead of a big company with lawyers on call. The fact that criminals during some small percentage of time resided on the premises is apparently a great excuse to take the property, by force. It’s as if the motel property itself has been declared guilty.


Sure Russ Caswell and others have made numerous 911 calls over the years. But the government is actually using that proper use of government services as evidence against the Caswell’s. One supposes they should have never called the officials, had they known they were forfeiting their property rights in doing so. The property, near Main Street, is 4.5 acres, and worth $1million.


The government is actually claiming it’s trying to stop criminals by seizing this property of law-abiding Americans. The building and land could be used by the local government, or sold, with proceeds going mainly to the police department. It makes no sense; they claim to be fighting crime while punishing the victims of crime.


Back in 1986, a profit motive was added to America’s previously limited civil forfeiture laws. The chance for local police departments to bypass their budgets by this means became huge. Successfully seize and it’s yours, with a small portion of the worth going to the federal government.


As you may guess, since 1986 civil forfeiture use has blossomed, from $93 million to a stunning $1.6 billion. The DEA now has agents who specialize in identifying properties they can seize, giving the appearance of a department focus on acquiring properties of value with ease, over a desire to protect and serve.


The Tewksbury Police and the US Justice Department perform a multitude of essential and even heroic acts. In this story however, the heroes are the upstanding Mr. Caswell and Mrs. Caswell, and the government is playing the role of a miscreant.


The Caswell’s, and a group called Institute for Justice, who are working for free on their behalf, deserve our support.


When Russ and Pat head to federal court in Boston on November 5 to defend themselves and the business they built to fund retirement, they also defend the rights each of us possess to the property we have earned.


Please support Mr. Caswell, Mrs. Caswell, and the Institute for Justice, as they try to bring this shameful story to a righteous end.