Owner wins court battle against feds trying to seize his Tewksbury motel

Russ Caswell who, with his wife, Pat, are the second generation owners of Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, are awaiting the decision of a federal judge, who will determine whether law enforcement agencies can seize the motel from the Caswells, who have never charged with a crime, due to drug activity that has occurred there. JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE (Regional, Marcia Dick)
Russ Caswell who, with his wife, Pat, are the second-generation owners of Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, posed this fall at the motel.Marcia Dick/Globe Staff

A federal magistrate judge has rejected federal law enforcement officials’ attempt to seize a Tewksbury motel due to drug activity that had taken place there over the years.

“After careful consideration of the evidence, pleadings, and argument of counsel, this Court concludes that the Government has failed to meet its burden of establishing that the Motel is subject to forfeiture,” US Magistrate Judge Judith Dein wrote in a ruling today.

Dein also found that the owner of the Caswell Motel, Russell H. Caswell, had met his burden of proving that he was the “innocent owner” of the property.

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The judge dismissed the forfeiture action brought by the government.

Caswell has been battling the government since September 2009 to save the motel his father built in 1955. The government sought to seize the motel using a civil asset forfeiture law that allows the government to seize property linked to drug crimes.

The government introduced information about 15 specific drug-related incidents at the motel from 1994 to 2008, a period of time, the judge noted, when the motel had rented out 196,000 rooms.

But Caswell has never been charged with — or even accused of — any criminal wrongdoing, the Globe reported in November.

The judge, in her 59-page ruling filed in US District Court in Boston, said she found it “significant that neither Mr. Caswell, nor anyone in his family, nor anyone over whose behavior he had any control, was involved in any of the drug-related incidents.”

The court noted that the idea of forfeiture laws was to deter crime.

“In the instant case, punishing Mr. Caswell by forfeiting the Motel obviously would not punish those engaged in the criminal conduct.”

“The crimes seem to have occurred at the Motel solely due to the ‘seclusion that one could obtain from an ordinary hotel,’” the court said, quoting language from an earlier court opinion.

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