January 25, 2013

A BAD WEEK FOR MASSACHUSETTS U.S. ATTORNEY CARMEN ORTIZ. First the Aaron Swartz debacle, now this: Triumphant motel owner slams Carmen Ortiz.

A Tewksbury motel owner who just beat back U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s three-year bid to seize his business has become the latest critic to accuse the Hub’s top fed of prosecutorial bullying.

“I don’t think she should have the power she has to pull this stuff on people,” Russ Caswell, owner of the Motel Caswell, told the Herald last night after a judge’s ruling in his favor.

The feds first tried to grab Caswell’s property in 2009 under drug seizure laws, citing numerous drug busts at the motel. Caswell’s defense team argued that he was not responsible for what guests did. And his lawyers found there was actually more drug activity at nearby businesses, and theorized the government was going after Caswell, who has no criminal record, because his mortgage-free property is worth more than $1 million.

“It’s bullying by the government. And it’s a huge waste of taxpayer money,” said Caswell, whose father built the motel in 1955. “This has been a huge financial and physical toll. It’s thrown our whole family into turmoil. You work for all your life to pay for something and these people come along and think it’s theirs. It’s just wrong. The average person can’t afford to fight this.”

In a written decision after a November trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Gail Dein dismissed the government’s forfeiture action, ruling yesterday that Caswell, “who was trying to eke out an income from a business located in a drug-infested area that posed great risks to the safety of him and his family,” took all reasonable steps to prevent crime.

“The Government’s resolution of the crime problem should not be to simply take his Property,” Dein said in her decision.

The innkeeper’s complaint follows the suicide of hacker Aaron Swartz, who faced up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Swartz’s family, lawyers and legal commentators have called for Ortiz’s ouster and new guidelines for federal attorneys, saying the Swartz case was a prosecutorial abuse.

It’s hard to imagine Ortiz moving to higher office that would require some sort of Senate confirmation after this. At least, the hearings would be ugly.