BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts man on Thursday won a court battle to keep federal authorities from seizing his motel because of allegations that some guests were dealing drugs.
In a written decision after a November trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein dismissed the government’s move to place Russell Caswell’s motel in Tewksbury in civil forfeiture.
Dein said the government didn’t prove Caswell failed to reasonably deter crimes on his property. She also noted it was never alleged that Caswell, family members or people under his control had been involved in any drug activity.
The Motel Caswell is at 434 Main St. (Route 38) in Tewksbury, a little than a mile south of the Interstate 495 interchange.
The judge said the government introduced evidence about 15 drug-related incidents from 1994 to 2008, during which time the motel rented about 196,000 rooms. She said none of the incidents was a large-scale drug operation.
Caswell and his lawyers had said every budget motel has a certain number of guests who commit crimes, and he has always tried to discourage it on his $57-a-night motel and work with police.
“Based on the evidence presented and my observation of the witnesses during trial, I find that Mr. Caswell is appropriately concerned about the events that take place at the Motel and that he recognizes that it is in his interest and in the interest of his family to operate as safe an enterprise as possible,” Dein wrote.
Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based libertarian public interest law firm that represents Caswell, called the ruling “a complete victory for the Caswell family and for the protection of private property rights.”
Christina DiIorio Sterling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said it had received the judge’s order late in the day and was reviewing it.
Dein found that Caswell didn’t have actual knowledge of any illegal conduct, was not “willfully blind” to it and did all that “could be reasonably expected” to prevent illegal use of the property when he became aware of it. The magistrate said Caswell’s motel had security lighting and surveillance cameras, and its desk was staffed 24 hours, among other things.
She also said the government’s argument was undermined by evidence that police drove through the property routinely, knew its owner’s identity and never contacted him directly to work with him on controlling crime there.