The government accuses you of a major crime. You'll be "Mirandized"told of your rights to remain silent, to have a lawyer even if you can't afford one, and so forth. Then, if you go to trial, the U.S. Constitution guarantees all "due process of law."
But what about the prosecutor who brought charges against you in the first place? He can decide practically on his own whom to indict and when. He might make funky side deals with defense attorneys and judges with little or no public accountability.
Right now you're thinking, tell me something I don't know. Of course governmental powers can be abused. That's just about the oldest story there is.
True, but those abuses are expanding steadily in the United States today.
Suppose the government suspects that your car or your house is associated with the commission of a crime. They can take your car or house without convicting you of a crimewithout even charging you with one.
I am not writing a fantasy novel here. I am talking about modern "asset forfeiture" laws.
Or suppose you file for personal bankruptcy. Since you leased your car, you assume that it will go back to the dealer, who will return it to the lender. Instead, the bankruptcy lawyer sells it at auction, pockets most of the money and gives the government the rest.
Now suppose you are the lender behind that car. Since the loan was secured by the car, you assumed that your money was safe. But lawyers and judges tell you, forget it. We're taking the money and there's nothing you can do about it.
A little personal background. In 1977 President Carter's budget director, Bert Lance, was forced to resign, accused of some unethical banking deals. I was political editor of the Atlanta Constitution then and Lance told me privately, "Look, Jim, if they come after you, they can get you. You're just one guy against the whole United States Department of Justice. There are so many laws and regulations now, we've all violated something or other, and if they want to take you out, they can." I didn't agree, thinking, "Well, Bert, that's just your self-vindication."
Years passed and I was writing a book about former U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski of Chicago, who went to jail on corruption charges. And he told me the same thing! "Look, Jim, if they come after you. . . " And so it went for many other accused politicians I covered.
In 2009 I heard about the first multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, run by Tom Petters in Minnesota. So what, another white-collar criminal, just bigger than most. Then I was told about egregious abuses of power by prosecutors making secret deals with private attorneys and judges to loot Petters' remaining assets. The difference was, this wasn't some street-corner cop seizing a guy's car just because there was a roach on the front seat. Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake.
That is when I decided to write this book, Ponzi-dot-gov. The government now is running its own schemes to defraud. This isn't about whether some crooked politician goes to jail for graft. Nothing less than the Bill of Rights is in jeopardy.