Joliet attorney looks to show Will County prosecutors are aggressive on vehicle forfeitures

Sign for Will County Courthouse, 100 W. Jefferson St., Joliet.

A Joliet attorney challenging Illinois forfeiture law is seeking to establish a pattern he claims will show how aggressively Will County prosecutors take property away from owners who are not charged with using them to commit crimes.

Attorney Frank Andreano filed motions in an April 29 forfeiture case that request a Will County judge to take judicial notice of two forfeiture cases from 2020 and 2022. In those cases, the owners won back their vehicles by asserting an innocent owner claim after lengthy litigation.

Andreano said he’s citing those two cases and many more to show the April 29 case wasn’t a mistake but part of a pattern.

In the latter case, prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of an elderly woman’s 2014 Mazda SUV seized from her daughter who was ticketed for a misdemeanor traffic offense in New Lenox.

“Part of my case is this isn’t a mistake. You guys go after innocent people all the time,” Andreano said of the prosecution of forfeiture cases.

The April 29 case led to Andreano to file a counter claim on May 13 that challenges the constitutionality of Illinois forfeiture law. Andreano said he intends for his challenge to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Andreano’s counter claim contends forfeiture law allows Will County prosecutors to function as “high-volume debt-collection attorneys concerned only with the amount of funds collected and property seized.” He claimed prosecutors are “prosecuting for profit” with forfeiture cases.

“So long as there is a money motive to do this, nothing is changing,” Andreano said.

Joliet attorney Frank Andreano makes notes on a document in his office on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Carole Cheney, spokeswoman for Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, said Andreano’s court filing challenges the constitutionality of “settled, well-established forfeiture laws.” She said their office uses forfeiture money in “compliance with these laws for law enforcement and public education.”

On Friday, Cheney declined to respond to questions regarding Andreano’s latest filings because it involves a pending matter.

The 2020 forfeiture case prosecuted by Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Dant Foulk involved a woman whose Ford Explorer was seized from her husband after he was arrested on a felony aggravated driving under the influence charge.

The woman’s affidavit said she and her husband bought the vehicle, she never allowed him to use it while intoxicated and she uses the vehicle for her son’s athletic activities, according to court records.

After about a half a year of litigation, Will County Chief Judge Dan Kennedy ordered the woman should get back her vehicle.

Two months later, Kennedy rejected a motion from Foulk to reconsider his decision, court records show. Foulk then appealed Kennedy’s decision.

An appellate court affirmed Kennedy’s decision in a 2022 ruling. The appellate court said prosecutors’ interpretation of forfeiture law “serves to punish not only wrongdoers but those who co-own vehicles with wrongdoers.”

The appellate court refused to interpret the law in that way. The high court found the woman participated in no wrongdoing and she had prohibited her husband from using the vehicle.

About two months after that appellate decision, prosecutors filed forfeiture over a separate incident for a less severe offense: misdemeanor driving while license suspended, court records show.

The 2022 forfeiture case prosecuted by Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Laurence Leszcynski was over a Ford Fusion belonging to a man who loaned it to his daughter, court records show. The daughter in turn allowed her fiancé to drive it.

While driving the vehicle, the fiancé was arrested on the driving while license suspended charge.

Following a 2023 bench trial, Judge Elizabeth Dow allowed the owner to have his car back after determining he was the true owner and he didn’t approve of his daughter’s fiancé to use the vehicle, court records show.