Source: The Atlantic City Press (NJ)
Copyright: 1999 South Jersey Publishing Co.
Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jan 1999
Author: Brian Hickey, Staff Writer


Michael Antonelli is in prison in Cumberland County, guilty of conspiracy
in a New York State drug-distribution ring. Diane Antonelli served six
months of house arrest and is still on probation. 

ATLANTIC CITY -- Being under house arrest wasn't the easiest way to live,
but Diane Antonelli made do. 

That's what happens when you're a convicted drug offender. 

Talking to her husband through glass at a prison-visitation room isn't the
way she envisioned spending her days, but the 40-year-old just accepted it
as her new reality. 

But now, faced with the prospect of losing her North Massachusetts Avenue
home under the government's property-forfeiture laws, she's frazzled. 

Sure, she's not the innocent victim of an uncaring system. The family's
losing the house because she and her husband, Michael, are both convicted
drug offenders. 

But still, they say, how can the U.S. Marshal's Service just come in and
take a house that's been in their family for 20 years? 

They've unsuccessfully dived through numerous legalistic hoops, mailing
countless letters looking for support. 

But support isn't easy to come by and the only thing that will keep them in
the house past this weekend is a last-minute appeal. 

If that appeal fails, Deputy Marshal Dominick Russo, of the service's
Newark office, will tell the family -- there are 10 children and
stepchildren, but they don't all live there year round -- to get out of the
$140,000 house already owned by the government. 

"This is not like the Gestapo here," Russo said. "She's trying to hold onto
the house and I can understand her position but they were dealing drugs. 

"Before asset forfeiture, someone who stole $1 million would do five years
in jail and have the money when they got out. This takes away the fruits of
the crime." 

Diane Antonelli, however, sees it differently. 

"I'm going absolutely crazy here," Antonelli said. 

As she said that, Antonelli was sitting on the same couch where she told a
family friend she would try to get the 11 pounds of marijuana he needed
four years ago. 

He was wearing a wire and the authorities were listening. 

Antonelli's husband, currenlty held at the Fairton Federal Correctional
Facility, isn't eligible for parole until 2008. He pleaded guilty to
conspiracy in a New York State drug-distribution ring. 

Russo said he signed the house away in that plea agreement (Diane said he
signed to save her from any jail time) but the Antonelli family is still

Three of the children, a 17-year-old son, a 7-year-old son and 13-year-old
daughter, still call the Atlantic City house home. 

"All we want is our home back and not to be another victim of our own
government's communist actions," wrote Mia Antonelli, 23, on behalf of the
family children, ranging in age from 7 to 27. 

The national anti-forfeiture lobbying group Forfeiture Endangers Americans'
Rights, or FEAR, has also noticed the case. 

"The government is putting children out on the street and they're doing it
out of greed," said Tom Gordon, executive director of FEAR. "And, they'll
get a nice chunk of change for their efforts." 

Forfeiture laws first came about in the 1970s and were strengthened with
the war on drugs in 1984. 

The government has a right to start forfeiture proceedings against a family
if they say their home or other property is a benefit of criminal activity. 

Antonelli said the house was not a fruit of any crime. 

Officials consider it a deterrent and reasonable punishment for criminals.
Others see it as over-the-line and unconstitutional. 

In criminal cases, law enforcement must prove someone committed a crime. In
forfeiture, the property owner has to convince a judge that the property
wasn't used in the commission of crimes. 

On Oct. 30, a chief U.S. District Court judge denied the family's motion to
have ownership transferred to the children so the family could keep

But now, they await the outcome of another appeal. 

Despite the reprieve, beds and furniture have already been shipped out to

Saturday, Antonelli and her son sat on the ground watching Winnie the Pooh
on a borrowed television. 

"This is ruining me. Mentally, I'm destroyed," she said of the process.
"I'm living in limbo. This is no way to live."

Antonelli said the plan now is to move back to Philadelphia and find a
place near family and friends because she can't afford a new home. 

When asked if she's resigned to losing her home, she said, "Yeah, yeah.
With everything else I've lost, there's no winning." 

But just minutes later, she rethinks her position. 

"I don't know, they just give me nothing but negativity," Antonelli said of
the government. "I firmly belong here and that's why I'm standing my
ground. There's nothing left, but I'm still sitting here." 
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