Automatic Transgression

The penalty for selling an unregistered World War II Sten gun? In this case it might be six months of house arrest, three years of probation, and one $36,000 Turbo Z.

In the eyes of the federal government, however, all machine gun-related crimes -- including those as seemingly innocuous as the failure to register a firearm -- are equally serious, says ATF spokesman Bruce Snyder. "Possessing and selling an unregistered machine gun is a crime of violence in itself," Snyder says. "It's no different than a drug trafficker. Just because the trafficker doesn't have drugs with him when he buys the machine guns to protect his next load doesn't make it any less serious a crime. Besides, the criminal side has nothing to do with this seizure, which is why they are tried separately. The law allows us to seize this property legally and rightfully just as if it had been narcotics involved."

The U.S. Attorney's Office, which will argue the government's seizure case in court, agrees. "The car we're talking about was seized by due process of law," says Andres Rivero, an assistant U.S. attorney. "What should happen with this property will be decided in a court of law."

Avrich's house arrest is scheduled to end late this month, after which he can come and go as he pleases, unfettered by "fascistic" probation officers who have required him to wear an electronic monitoring anklet even though the court did not require it. (Frank Schwartz, deputy chief of the U.S. Probation Office, says cases under supervision by his office are confidential, but electronic monitoring is required by policy in this district.) While he awaits a court date for his seizure case, Avrich is remodeling a house he bought in Miami Beach, working as a real estate agent, and driving around town in a comparatively sedate 1989 Honda Accord.

"You would never expect this type of thing to happen in the United States," he says of his battle with federal seizure statutes. "Maybe under a dictatorship, but not here. I guess the only thing we can do is shout loud enough and threaten some public outcry, and then maybe they will be a little more discriminatory about who they grab possessions from. But Lord knows how many people have already been had like this.

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