Confiscating contraband or ill-gotten gains from bad guys is a big part of the job for law enforcers. Whether it's billions in assets of white collar criminals or multimillions worth of drugs, stolen items, or even an ancient dinosaur skeleton, a seizure can serve different purposes.
Authorities seize assets like $18 million yachts in white collar cases to liquidate and auction them off to help pay back victims. When it comes the criminal world, a seizure of say $180 million worth of cocaine found on a submarine in the Caribbean removes illicit goods from the market, in addition to providing evidence to build a prosecution.
What are some of the major seizures and big busts in recent years? Read more to see more cases that were record-breaking, major, or just bizarre.
Sunken Sub, 15,000 Pounds of Cocaine
A 100-foot submarine capable of carrying 10 tons of drugs and traveling up to 5,000 miles was captured on its way to Florida with at least $180 million worth of cocaine on it. Authorities arrested the five men on board the self-propelled semi-submersible and confiscated 15,000 pounds of cocaine from the submarine after it sunk in July 2011.
It was the first time such a vessel and its illicit cargo was seized in the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The "narco-subs," as they're known, are built in the jungles of Colombia controlled by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The vessels have moved nearly one-third of all cocaine in that area, according to the Coast Guard.
Madoff's Money, $2.35 Billion Collected
By the end of 2012, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan recovered approximately $2.35 billion under asset forfeiture laws from Bernard Madoff's mega-scheme. While much of that money came from a multimillion dollar forfeiture by the Jeffry Picower Estate, millions have come by auctioning off Madoff's personal belongings -- some typical, others not so much.
When wife Ruth Madoff's 10.5 carat diamond engagement ring sold for $550,000 at a November 2010 auction, it significantly contributed to the $2 million raised from the sale of items taken out of the Madoffs' Manhattan penthouse; but it was their more intimate belongings that earned more money than estimated.
One lot that included 11 pairs of Madoff's boxer shorts and a pair of Prada pantyhose sold for $1,700, while another with his velveteen monogrammed slippers fetched $6,000 – that was 50 times more than the estimated $110 it was expected to fetch. But walking in Madoff's shoes would prove difficult for the buyer of the fancy footwear who wore a size 13 shoe -- Madoff's slippers were a size 8.
7 Tons of Pot, Worth $12 Million
In what was believed to be the largest pot seizure in U.S. history, federal agents busted a 26-year-old Mexican man who attempted to drive a 1994 tractor-trailer with 7 tons of marijuana hidden in it into Arizona from Mexico last month, according Customs and Border Protection officers.
Agents said they found 600 bales of marijuana weighing just over 14,000 pounds and worth up to $12 million inside boxes made to look like steel containers. The bust took place at the border in Nogales, the same port of entry where agents nabbed 12,000 pounds of pot in 2010. That bust had been the largest drug confiscation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
$1 Million Worth of Prehistoric Bones
When it comes to seizures, the feds don't stop at fancy boats, jewelry and cars – they've even confiscated prehistoric bones. Last May at a Manhattan auction house, an 8-foot tall, 24-foot long Tyrannosaurus skeleton sold for more than $1 million. While the fossils were legitimate, their delivery into the United States was not.
Eric Prokopi, the self-proclaimed "commercial paleontologist" who offered up the dinosaur skeleton, admitted in federal court in December to illegally smuggling the dinosaur remains into the country. The U.S. Attorney's Office seized the skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus bataar, which topped the food chain in the Gobi Desert more than 70 million years ago, and said it would ultimately return the bones to Mongolia.
Prokopi faces up to 17 years in federal prison. Sentencing is set for April.
Bike Ring: $500,000 Worth of Wheels
Thirty-three criminals ranging from age 20 to 46 with nicknames like "Scrap," "Moron" and "Yardy" were part of an organized group busted for swiping more than 60 high-end motorcycles valued at a half-a-million dollars off New York streets, police said.
Officers using wiretaps discovered "steal teams" would use stolen mini-vans with the backseats ripped out to snatch specific makes and models of motorcycles from wealthy neighborhoods -- sometimes in just 30 seconds, according to police. Other gang members would serve as retailers who would sell the bikes locally and internationally across the Caribbean, according to authorities.
On average, each motorcycle was valued at about $7,000 but was sold for $2,000 a piece, according to police, who announced the bust last July. In an embarrassing twist, one month after the arrests, seven of the bikes were stolen from an NYPD lot where they were being stored. Weeks later, two men from the Bronx were arrested for stealing the bikes, according to the NYPD.
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