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Posts Tagged ‘Asset Forfeiture’

Erie Times E-Edition Article-Why are the innocent still losing cash and property to the police?

Posted by M. C. on July 27, 2021

Police need only to suspect your property is somehow involved in a crime. They don’t have to charge you, let alone convict you of anything. And once they seize something, it’s up to you to prove in a complex and expensive system that it is not derived from a crime. Basically, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

https://erietimes-pa-app.newsmemory.com/?publink=08ad43c81_1345e4b

Why are the innocent still losing cash and property to the police?

Terry Rolin, like his Depression-era parents, shunned banks and kept his life savings of more than $82,000 hidden at his suburban Pittsburgh home. What Rolin didn’t realize was that he had more to fear from law enforcement than from banks.

When Rolin, a retired railroad worker, moved to an apartment, he decided to entrust the money to his daughter, Rebecca Brown, to open a joint bank account in Boston, near her home.

But as she was set to fly home from Pittsburgh International Airport, the Transportation Security Administration spotted the cash in her carry-on and called authorities. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent questioned her, didn’t believe her answers and seized the money under a program that was created to target illegal proceeds from crimes.

The agent had no reason to suspect Brown of any crime, and neither she nor her father were ever charged with one. Yet it took these innocent citizens more than six months, with help from pro bono lawyers and a class action lawsuit against the government, to get their money back last year.

At least their nightmare ended happily – far better than for tens of thousands of innocent people whose cash, cars or even homes are seized and permanently kept by local, state or federal law enforcement under ‘civil asset forfeiture.’

Forfeiture is meant to battle crime by taking profits from swindlers and drug dealers, and at times it does. But the way it has been used for decades, it too often ensnares law-abiding citizens.

Why?

One reason is that federal, state and local authorities get to keep all or part of the forfeitures they take in. Since 2000, they’ve taken in nearly $69 billion, according to a report by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group that has sued the government in forfeiture cases. That’s 69 billion reasons for cash-strapped agencies to grab money, whether or not it’s justified.

And it’s so easy.

Police need only to suspect your property is somehow involved in a crime. They don’t have to charge you, let alone convict you of anything. And once they seize something, it’s up to you to prove in a complex and expensive system that it is not derived from a crime. Basically, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

Like so much else in today’s criminal justice system, the brunt of forfeiture falls on those who can least afford to fight back. The majority of seizures are cash. Across 21 states with available data 2015-19, the average forfeiture was $1,276 – not exactly drug lord fortunes.

Because many low-income and minority people don’t have bank accounts, they use cash and become easy prey for law enforcement. Once their cash is confiscated, they often have no money to hire a lawyer and are forced to let the money go.

Civil asset forfeiture turns authorities into bounty hunters who somehow can’t imagine the many legitimate reasons people carry cash. They’ve snatched large amounts of cash from people carrying it to buy a used car, to close a business deal or simply because it’s the proceeds of their legitimate cash business.

A deputy in rural Muskogee, Oklahoma, stopped a driver on the highway for a broken taillight and seized $53,000 in donations collected from charity concerts for a Christian college in Myanmar and a Thai orphanage. Only after horrendous national publicity and intervention by an Institute for Justice lawyer did the government return the money.

Three dozen states have passed laws since 2014 to rein in the system’s abuses. But a huge loophole often remains: To get around state law, local police can partner with federal law enforcement in a forfeiture case and get up to 80% back as a kind of finder’s fee.

New Mexico, in a 2015 law, found a way to get around this problem. The state not only requires a conviction before taking money or property permanently, it also mandates that all proceeds go into the state’s general treasury rather than directly to police. And it has cut into the ability of police to partner with the feds.

In Maine, a new measure that abolished civil asset forfeiture became law this week.

Other states should take note. And if Congress is serious about police reform, it should eliminate federal agencies’ outrageous use of civil forfeiture and end the program that allows sharing with states.

Forfeiture is one more reason many law-abiding citizens fear and distrust law enforcement. In America, no one like Terry Rolin or his daughter should have to battle the government to get back their hard-earned property.

In the wake of a police officer’s conviction for murder in the killing of George Floyd, USA TODAY Opinion is producing a series of editorials examining ways to reform police departments across the USA.

Civil asset forfeiture turns authorities into bounty hunters who somehow can’t imagine the many legitimate reasons people carry cash. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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Joe Biden: Father of the Drug War’s Asset Forfeiture Program | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 10, 2020

Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate.

Biden’s bill was passed as part of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act . In addition to a slew of new powers for prosecutors, the burden of proof for asset seizure was lowered once again (agents had to onlybelieve that what they were seizing was equal in value to money believed to have been purchased from drug sales). More significantly, the bill started the “equitable sharing” program that allowed local and state law enforcement to retain up to 80 percent of the spoils.

https://mises.org/wire/joe-biden-father-drug-wars-asset-forfeiture-program?utm_source=Mises+Institute+Subscriptions&utm_campaign=e1cab9c1f9-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_12_31_06_15_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8b52b2e1c0-e1cab9c1f9-228343965

In 1991, Maui police officers showed up at the home of Frances and Joseph Lopes. One officer showed his badge and said, “Let’s go into the house, and we will explain things to you.” Once he was inside, the explanation was simple: “We’re taking the house.”

The Lopses were far from wealthy. They worked on a sugar plantation for nearly fifty years, living in camp housing, to save up enough money to buy a modest, middle-class home. But in 1987, their son Thomas was caught with marijuana. He was twenty-eight, and he suffered from mental health issues. He grew the marijuana in the backyard of his parents’ home, but every time they tried to cut it down, Thomas threatened suicide. When he was arrested, he pled guilty, was given probation since it was his first offense, and he was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. Frances and Joseph were elated. Their son got better, he stopped smoking marijuana, and the episode was behind them.

But when the police showed up and told them that their house was being seized, they learned that the episode was not behind them. That statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture was five years. It had only been four. Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate.

Asset forfeiture laws once applied only to goods that could be considered a danger to society—illegal alcohol, weapons, etc. But with the birth of the modern war on drugs, lawmakers pushed for something with more teeth, which they achieved with the 1970 passage of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Although many are familiar with the story of the steady expansion of civil asset forfeiture laws, many overlook the fact that presidential candidate Joe Biden helped put these laws on previously apathetic law enforcement agents’ radar and, worse, played a significant role in broadening their application. Biden has effectively aided and abetted the police state’s sustained assault on American subjects’ property rights.

Expanding Asset Forfeiture, Phase I: The RICO Act of 1970

In 1970, the targets of asset forfeiture were wealthy crime bosses. It was prosecutor G. Robert Blakey, who had worked under Attorney General Robert Kennedy and various congressmen, who set about broadening its scope. He helped draft a bill for a new legal concept, “criminal forfeiture,” which would allow police to seize the illegally acquired profits of a convicted criminal.

The assets that could be seized would now consist of anything that was funded with money connected to criminal activity. To appease those who were worried about abuses of power, Blakey assured them that prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal was guilty of a crime before the assets could be seized. There was nothing to worry about; only legitimate bad guys would suffer.

The new policy was passed as part of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in 1970. Blakey was a fan of the 1931 movie Little Caesar, and the acronym was crafted to honor Blakey’s favorite character from the movie, the gangster Rico Bandello.

The RICO Act wasn’t designed to be part of the war on drugs; it was just meant to target criminals. But when Richard Nixon took office, the RICO Act was one of a number of new tools that the members of his newly created Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)) could use to fight his drug war. Combined with other legal innovations, such as no-knock raids and mandatory minimum sentences, Nixon and his administration would cure America of the drug menace.

Still, the pesky “conviction” requirement stood in the way of law enforcement’s ability to seize criminal assets. In 1978, Jimmy Carter’s director of the Office of Drug Abuse (the title “drug czar” is often retroactively applied), Peter Bourne, decided that the law needed to be changed. Bourne learned of an incident at the Miami International Airport in which a suitcase had been left on the baggage carousel for three hours before police picked it up and found $3 million inside. If drug kingpins could afford to abandon so much money, they must be flush with enough cash to hardly worry about criminal forfeiture laws.

So, at Bourne’s urging, Congress modified the RICO Act to allow the DEA to confiscate assets without a conviction. The burden of proof wasn’t entirely gone (yet), but the government only needed an indictment, rather than a full conviction, to justify asset seizure. After all, the government knew who a lot of these kingpins were, but the criminals continued to get rich while the DEA struggled to build cases against them.

Even then, though, real estate was off limits. Asset forfeiture had evolved from the seizure of dangerous items into criminal profit following a conviction, and now into criminal profit (and its “derivative proceeds”) without the conviction requirement. But real estate—such as the Lopes house—still couldn’t be touched.

But through the 1970s, the RICO Act was still largely ignored by prosecutors. Blakey was holding seminars out of Cornell University, which were attended by federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors, urging them to take advantage of the RICO Act in the war on drugs. He made few inroads. The law was unwieldy, and prosecutors were overworked. More often than not, it wasn’t worth their time. While Blakey was proselytizing the virtues of his law to little effect, he was unwittingly gaining an ally in Congress: Senator Joe Biden.

Expanding Asset Seizure, Phase 2: Biden and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984

Biden, a young Senator from Delaware, had to do something to show that despite his “liberal” reputation, he could be just as tough on crime as his Republican colleagues. He took notice of the RICO Act, and he realized that law enforcement agencies were not taking advantage of it, particularly in waging the drug war. He turned to the General Accounting Office and asked them to produce a study on the potential uses of RICO for drug enforcement.

The report showed that the RICO Act granted enormous powers to police to confiscate drug-related assets but that these powers were not being taken advantage of: “The government has simply not exercised the kind of leadership and management necessary to make asset forfeiture a widely used law enforcement technique,” the report stated. By the time the report came in, Ronald Reagan was settling into office and getting ready to renew the war on drugs.

Reagan brought the FBI into the drug war, and he gave the director, William Webster, a mission. His agents would use the powers of the RICO Act to find drug rings and take away their assets. Drug cartels must be rendered unprofitable. As the 1980s progressed, the war on drugs would be the country’s biggest political issue. Politicians from both parties would work to show that they could out–drug warrior their opponents. One Democratic representative from Florida, Earl Hutto, said, “In the war on narcotics, we have met the enemy, and he is the U.S. Code.”

Biden brought the RICO law to the attention of the federal government, Reagan enlisted the FBI to use it against drug traffickers, and both parties would now work to dismantle any limitations that the law might still impose.

The drug war became a contest of political one-upmanship. Reagan’s Justice Department fought for all kinds of new powers. Attorney General Edwin Meese and Assistant Attorney General William Weld (yes, that Bill Weld) railed against the limitations on their legal prerogative. Weld went so far as to argue in favor of the legality of using the Air Force to shoot suspected drug-smuggling planes out of the sky, a policy that even his boss was unwilling to endorse.

But Meese, Weld, and everyone else seemed to agree that forfeiture laws didn’t go nearly far enough. By requiring an indictment, the government still had to meet some standard of reasonable guilt before seizing property, which allowed far too many criminals that law enforcement knew to be guilty (but couldn’t build a case against) to keep their ill-gotten gains. To take things further, the Justice Department argued that law enforcement should be allowed to take “substitute” property: they knew that they wouldn’t be able to take everything that had been paid for with drug money, so it stood to reason that they should be able to take legally acquired assets of equal value (however that might be determined). And finally, with real estate off limits, the government was unable to seize marijuana farms, drug warehouses, and criminal homes.

The Comprehensive Forfeiture Act fixed all of these problems. Biden introduced the new bill in 1983, and its provisions became law the next year. Under this law federal agents had nearly unlimited powers to seize assets from private citizens. Now the government only needed to find a way to let local and state police join the party.

Biden’s bill was passed as part of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act . In addition to a slew of new powers for prosecutors, the burden of proof for asset seizure was lowered once again (agents had to onlybelieve that what they were seizing was equal in value to money believed to have been purchased from drug sales). More significantly, the bill started the “equitable sharing” program that allowed local and state law enforcement to retain up to 80 percent of the spoils.

The law took effect in 1986, the year before Thomas Lopes pled guilty to charges of growing a marijuana plant in his parents’ backyard. In 1987, when Thomas faced the judge, the government had just made it so that his local police had an enormous incentive and unchecked authority to seize property from private citizens, so long as they could show any flimsy connection to drugs. By 1991, the Maui police were running out of easily seized property, so they started combing through case files within the five-year limit to find new sources of enrichment for their precinct using the expanded RICO powers. One such file brought the Lopes home to their attention.

But the Lopeses are only one example out of millions. In the year their home was confiscated by police for a minor, four-year-old drug charge, $644 million in assets were seized. In 2018 alone, the Treasury Department’s Forfeiture Fund saw nearly $1.4 billion in deposits . The Lopes story merely illustrates that criminals (regardless of how one might feel about drug laws) are hardly the only people falling victim to this policy.

The decades-long abuse of this policy has reached such extreme proportions that people on all sides of the political aisle have been turning against it. At this writing (February 20, 2019 for the original version of this article), the Supreme Court has unanimously voted in favor of Tyson Timbs , whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized in 2015 following a conviction for selling $400 in heroin. The court is asserting that asset forfeiture constitutes a fine and that the Eighth Amendment—which protects citizens from excessive fines—applies to both state and local governments. The consequences of the ruling remain to be seen, but it seems nearly certain that the unanimous decision was motivated by the increasing outrage against the civil asset forfeiture policies.

In the fight against the egregious violation of property rights that is asset forfeiture, Americans must not forget who those who promulgated these laws and birthed a new paradigm of government aggression against private persons that is proving difficult to overturn.

References

Baum, Dan. 1996. Smoke and Mirrors: The War On Drugs and the Politics of Failure. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

 

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POLICE STATE: Cops Used A Loophole To STEAL Millions From People Who Committed NO Crime

Posted by M. C. on January 3, 2020

In all 39 stops, not a single charge was filed, yet the private property was still stolen.

Asset Forfeiture and the drug war – a win for government and a loss for you.

More legalized theft.

https://www.shtfplan.com/headline-news/police-state-cops-used-a-loophole-to-steal-millions-from-people-who-committed-no-crime_01022020

Mac Slavo

Police officers in Missouri stole $2.6 million from drivers they knew had committed no crime.  The cops used a loophole in the Federal government’s law to get away the theft.

As part of a larger series on national asset forfeiture cases organized by the Pulitzer CenterSt. Louis Public Radio reported that St. Charles County law enforcement coerced at least 39 unsuspecting motorists into signing over their assets in 2018. This won’t be widely reported on, however, you can bet we Americans live in an oppressive police state.  The laws protect the ruling class from us and allow them to steal from us.

Martial Law Masquerading as Law and Order: The Police State’s Language of Force

According to the report, officers would lie in wait for a car committing a minor traffic violation. Upon seeing the minor violation, officers would then pull the car over, question the motorist, and then direct them to a private towing lot owned by Superior Towing. While in the lot, officers would ask more questions and search the vehicle, all in the hopes of finding large amounts of cash or connections to drugs.

If a trained police dog smelled marijuana on the cash, officers then gave the motorists two options: they could go to jail, or sign their possessions away to the department and leave with a traffic ticket. –Reason

This is corruption and immorality of the highest degree. In all 39 stops, not a single charge was filed, yet the private property was still stolen. Like taxation, this is legalized theft. It doesn’t matter if it’s called “civil asset forfeiture” or not, theft by any other name is still theft. The ruling class can take whatever they want from anyone else. 

Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children

According to a report by Reason, Missouri state law requires a criminal conviction or a guilty plea before forfeiture, and the assets are supposed to go towards schools, not law enforcement. However, according to the Pulitzer Center’s report, the federal Equitable Sharing program allowed the corruption of the police officers.  Once the stolen money was seized, it was supposed to go to the schools. But the Department of Justice provides a guide to the program, which allows for the “potential to share federal forfeiture proceeds with cooperating state and local law enforcement agencies.” By turning over their convictionless assets to the federal government, St. Charles law enforcement can split the funds 80-20.

A legislative effort to close this loophole and force law enforcement to comply with state law was defeated this year after the local police lobby quietly campaigned against it, calling it “anti-police.”  Nothing about this is “anti-police.”  This is straight-up anti-human rights.

H/T [Reason]

For more information on the police state, read constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead’s book Battlefield America: The War On The American People.  Police forces across the United States have been transformed into extensions of the military. Our towns and cities have become battlefields, and we the American people are now the enemy combatants to be spied on, tracked, frisked, and searched. For those who resist, the consequences can be a one-way trip to jail or even death.

Battlefield America: The War on the American People is Whitehead’s terrifying portrait of a nation at war with itself. In exchange for safe schools and lower crime rates, we have opened the doors to militarized police, zero-tolerance policies in schools, and SWAT team raids. The insidious shift was so subtle that most of us had no idea it was happening. This follow-up to Whitehead’s award-winning A Government of Wolves is a brutal critique of an America on the verge of destroying the very freedoms that define it. Hands up!―the police state has arrived.

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A History of Asset Forfeiture | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 1, 2019

Get pulled over with what some armed government employee considers too much cash and you can say good bye.

Legalized theft just like taxes only you don’t have to fill out a form, except NO refunds.

https://mises.org/wire/history-asset-forfeiture

In 1991, Maui police officers showed up at the home of Frances and Joseph Lopes. One officer showed his badge and said, “Let’s go into the house, and we will explain things to you.” Once he was inside, the explanation was simple: “We’re taking the house.”

The Lopses were far from wealthy. They worked on a sugar plantation for nearly fifty years, living in camp housing, to save up enough money to buy a modest, middle-class home. But in 1987, their son Thomas was caught with marijuana. He was twenty-eight, and he suffered from mental health issues. He grew the marijuana in the backyard of his parents’ home, but every time they tried to cut it down, Thomas threatened suicide. When he was arrested, he pled guilty, was given probation since it was his first offense, and he was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. Frances and Joseph were elated. Their son got better, he stopped smoking marijuana, and the episode was behind them.

But when the police showed up and told them that their house was being seized, they learned that the episode was not behind them. That statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture was five years. It had only been four. Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate. Read the rest of this entry »

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George H.W. Bush was Trump before we had Trump

Posted by M. C. on December 7, 2018

Walsh denounced the pardons as part of a cover-up and said that they undermined his investigation of possible criminal conduct by Bush himself. Walsh also reported that the president’s pardons prevented Bush from having to testify in court and face “searching questions” on his own conduct.

Just another Foggy Bottom swamp rat. I was reminded George H.W. was a regular at David Rockefellers’s Tri-Lateral Commission meetings.

Presidential eulogies, the original fake news.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/12/04/george-h-w-bush-trump-before-we-had-trump-column/2184857002/

James Bovard

Those who laud President Bush forget he limited trade, escalated our drug war, and obstructed a special counsel.

…But for all the differences of style between Donald Trump and the first president Bush, the two men have more in common than we’d like to remember.

Bush was the most protectionist president since Herbert Hoover. Like Trump, he spoke of the need for level playing fields and fair trade. But Bush-style fairness gave federal bureaucrats practically endless vetoes over Americans’ freedom to choose foreign goods. Bush’s Commerce Department ravaged importers with one bureaucratic scam after another, using the dumping law to convict 97 percent of imports investigated, claiming that their prices were unfairly low to American producers (not consumers).

Bush also ordered the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate after ice cream imports threatened to exceed one percent of the U.S. market. And he perpetuated import quotas on steel and machine tools.

Bush implemented restrictive trade quotas

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The Rutherford Institute :: Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind

Posted by M. C. on July 25, 2017

https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/policing_for_profit_jeff_sessions_co.s_thinly_veiled_plot_to_rob_us_blind

Despite the fact that 80 percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner, challenging these “takings” in court can cost the owner more than the value of the confiscated property itself. As a result, most property owners either give up the fight or chalk the confiscation up to government corruption, leaving the police and other government officials to reap the benefits.

Incredibly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that, according to The Washington Post, “in 2014, law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.” As the Post notes, “the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.”

Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants. And if you happen to have something the government wants badly enough, trust me, their agents will go to any lengths to get it.

Carry a lot of cash, transport a box of sudafed over state lines, sell crack, it is all the same to them. Whatever it takes to get arrest numbers and conviction rates up and make some loot at the same time.

Just another reminder it is not YOUR welfare that is of primary concern.

As in all war the civilians suffer the most casualties. The failed drug war is no different.

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Official Robbery – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on March 24, 2017

https://lewrockwell.com/2017/03/john-w-whitehead/official-robbery/

Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head.  With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”—“ Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice
The drug war, how government pays for it and pays itself is worse than the original crime.

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Rule by Thieves – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on March 15, 2017

https://lewrockwell.com/2017/03/john-w-whitehead/rule-thieves/

Case in point: in the same week that Wikileaks dropped its bombshell about the CIA’s use of spy tools to subject law-abiding Americans to all manner of government surveillance and hacking—a revelation that caused barely a ripple of concern among the citizenry—the government quietly and with little fanfare continued to wage its devastating, stomach-churning, debilitating war on the American people.

Incredibly, hardly anyone noticed.

It is up to us to make people notice.

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Asset Forfeiture and RICO-A Refresher

Posted by M. C. on July 23, 2013

About fifteen years ago I first learned of asset forfeiture.  It never has been in the MSM news.  Big surprise.

One instance was I believe in Louisiana where an individual was stopped for driving while Hispanic.  The unfortunate soul had three or four hundred dollars in his wallet.  Obviously only a drug dealer would be carrying that kind of moola.  There was nothing the individual could be charged with but his money was taken as proceeds of a crime. Read the rest of this entry »

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