Cash Only Seizures
1. Does anyone know of any unreported facts on this situation?
2. What do you as a LEO think of cash seizures if the case above is being report accurately?
Most of the story below, but click the link:
By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
MONTEREY, Tenn. -- "If somebody told me this happened to them, I absolutely would not believe this could happen in America."
That was the reaction of a New Jersey man who found out just how risky it can be to carry cash through Tennessee.
For more than a year, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has been shining a light on a practice that some call "policing for profit."
See previous stories:
"NC5 Investigates: Policing For Profit"
In this latest case, a Monterey police officer took $22,000 off the driver -- even though he had committed no crime.
"You live in the United States, you think you have rights -- and apparently you don't," said George Reby.
As a professional insurance adjuster, Reby spends a lot of time traveling from state to state. But it was on a trip to a conference in Nashville last January that he got a real education in Tennessee justice.
"I never had any clue that they thought they could take my money legally," Reby added. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Reby was driving down Interstate 40, heading west through Putnam County, when he was stopped for speeding.
A Monterey police officer wanted to know if he was carrying any large amounts of cash.
"I said, 'Around $20,000,'" he recalled. "Then, at the point, he said, 'Do you mind if I search your vehicle?' I said, 'No, I don't mind.' I certainly didn't feel I was doing anything wrong. It was my money."
That's when Officer Larry Bates confiscated the cash based on his suspicion that it was drug money.
"Why didn't you arrest him?" we asked Bates.
"Because he hadn't committed a criminal law," the officer answered.
Bates said the amount of money and the way it was packed gave him reason to be suspicious.
"The safest place to put your money if it's legitimate is in a bank account," he explained. "He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it's safer."
"But it's not illegal to carry cash," we noted.
"No, it's not illegal to carry cash," Bates said. "Again, it's what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "But you had no proof that money was being used for drug trafficking, correct? No proof?"
"And he couldn't prove it was legitimate," Bates insisted.
Bates is part of a system that, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered, gives Tennessee police agencies the incentive to take cash off of out-of-state drivers. If they don't come back to fight for their money, the agency gets to keep it all.
"This is a taking without due process," said Union City attorney John Miles.
A former Texas prosecutor and chairman of the Obion County Tea Party, Miles has seen similar cases in his area.
He said that, while police are required to get a judge to sign off on a seizure within five days, state law says that hearing "shall be ex parte" -- meaning only the officer's side can be heard.
That's why George Reby was never told that there was a hearing on his case.
"It wouldn't have mattered because the judge would have said, 'This says it shall be ex parte. Sit down and shut up. I'm not to hear from you -- by statute," Miles added.
George Reby said that he told Monterey officers that "I had active bids on EBay, that I was trying to buy a vehicle. They just didn't want to hear it."
In fact, Reby had proof on his computer.
But the Monterey officer drew up a damning affidavit, citing his own training that "common people do not carry this much U.S. currency."
Read Officer Bates' affidavit
"On the street, a thousand-dollar bundle could approximately buy two ounces of cocaine," Bates told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"Or the money could have been used to buy a car," we observed.
"It's possible," he admitted.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Bates if Reby had told him that he was trying to buy a car?
"He did," the officer acknowledged.
"But you did not include that in your report," we noted.
"If it's not in there, I didn't put it in there."
So why did he leave that out?
"I don't know," the officer said.
Bates also told the judge the money was hidden inside "a tool bag underneath trash to [deter] law enforcement from locating it."
"That's inaccurate," Reby said. "I pulled out the bag and gave it to him."
And even though there was no proof that Reby was involved in anything illegal, Bates' affidavit portrays him as a man with a criminal history that included an arrest for possession of cocaine.
That was 20-some years ago," the New Jersey man insisted.
"Were you convicted?" we wanted to know.
"No, I wasn't convicted," he answered.
But Officer Bates says that arrest -- which he acknowledged was old -- was still part of the calculation to take Reby's money.
"Am I going to use it? Yes, I'm going to use it because he's been charged with it in the past -- regardless of whether it's 10 or 15 years ago," he said.
Attorney John Miles said he's frustrated with attitudes toward Tennessee's civil forfeiture laws, which make such practices legal.
"We are entitled not to be deprived of our property without due process of law, both under the Tennessee Constitution and the federal Constitution -- and nobody cares," Miles said.
This year, state lawmakers debated a bill to create a special committee to investigate these "policing for profit" issues. That bill died in the last days of the legislative session.
After Reby filed an appeal, and after NewsChannel 5 began investigating, the state agreed to return his money -- if he'd sign a statement waiving his constitutional rights and promising not to sue.
They also made him come all the way from New Jersey, back to Monterey to pick up a check.
He got the check, but no apology.
"If they lied about everything in the report, why would they apologize?" Reby said.
And, with that, he was ready to put Tennessee in his rearview mirror.
"I really don't want to come back here," he said.
As for the appeals process, Reby was able to provide us and the state with letters from his employers, showing that he had a legitimate source of income.
It took him four months to get his money back, but it usually takes a lot longer for most people.
And that, Miles said, works to the benefit of the police.
He had two clients where police agreed to drop the cases in exchange for a cut of the money -- $1,000 in one case, $2,000 in another. In both cases, that was less than what they might have paid in attorney fees.
From just reading the story, there was no crime, and the Officer seized it on just suspicion, I think it is bullshit and a violation of civil rights.
I understand the reasoning behind the seizure, but I think there need to be a few more safe guards in place on this one. Makes things a little more easy to swallow if a sample of the cash went to the lab to see if it had been in contact with drugs. Or if a K-9 hit on the car. Who knows. This guy might have been the money mule.
I'd be a lot more OK with this if there was something more. Something any of us would look at and say "there's a good possibility they're drug runners", like Billy and Bobby not knowing each others name, differing stories about where they're going/have been, K9 hit, etc.
While it's possible that this guy really is a drug runner (they come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ages, and socio-economic areas), taking the money from someone just because they have it is a bit over the top.
I'm not a big fan of asset forfeiture or seizure sans a conviction. Seizing property, then putting it on the owner to prove his legitimate ownership just doesn't sit right with me. If you have reasonable articulable suspicion, I'm less bothered by it, but I'm still not a fan. This is America, and like a lot of Americans, I'm not overly fond of banks. Ifg tomorrow I decided to withdraw all of my cash assets and wear them around in a money belt while I go about my business, I would tell any cop who had a problem with it to shove off. Nothing in the Constitution says that it is MY responsibility as a citizen to prove ANYTHING to an agent of the government about the ownership of the property that I am legally carrying. Is it outside of the norm? Yes. Is it a behavior that in some cases is indicative of illicit drug involvement? Sure. But so is driving a pimped out Mercedes. So is owning a nice house. So is having lots of nice toys. If you want to arrest and book me through, then fine...the money is held in escrow until the case is dispo'd. But why seize something without a charge, or even the possibility of a charge, outside the realm of injunctions/ongoing investigation/organized crime? What was the point of seizing this guy's money? What was the intended outcome on the part of the cop? Seizing it because it MIGHT be evidence of drug activity that you haven't even got the PC to charge me with? Please.
There's still a problem with the "contact with drugs" line... How can you tell when it was in contact, or if it was just transfer after a bill that had been literally used to snort a line of coke was subsequently spent at a Stop & Rob, put in the drawer with all the other money, etc.?
Originally Posted by conalabu
I think asset forfeiture, used properly, is a great tool to hit drug dealers and other criminals where it hurts, and quick. But seizures like this one are going to end up taking the tool away because of police "work" that just looks really inept.
Great points, 121Traffic.
Originally Posted by 121Traffic
I don't get how this seizure, based only on what's reported, comes close to meeting any burden of proof to seize the money. It BARELY makes an arguable suspicion...
I agree, Jks. I am not saying its perfect, but more argueable. Just doing a grab with no meat to it... seems to fly right in the face of illegal seizure.
I will not go as far as to say this officer was wrong by any means based solely on a media story related to the stop. I think that the officer did a poor job in the interview explaining himself and likely other places as well leading to the ultimate outcome in the case.
Cash seizures are a very difficult and thin line type of investigations.
It is very easy when you ask the driver he denies any cash then you search a vehicle find 20,000 in cash wrapped in duct tape under the carpet of the trunk and the driver denies any knowledge. The same stop but when you ask the driver says yes I buy cars at auction and donít trust banks; I have 20,000 in the trunk of my car. It is under the carpet due to the fact that I stay in hotels and donít want it found if my car is broken into.
Many departments see only the $$$$ and send their guys out with instructions to work the money routes and not the drug routes.
Bulk cash smuggling is a crime on the federal level and ICE normally handles the investigations.
Originally Posted by abom334
I've seen this reported, and saw the interview with the officer.
It's crap, and an abuse of the asset seizure laws. Eventually, dickheads like this will lose asset seizure for us the way dickheads lost vehicle searches.
Push the limits, and the court will hit the reset button.
Losing legit seizures is my fear as well Mac.
Sorry, the more and more I read about this and watch the officer's interview, the more I'm not on his side on this. Without the interview, I would reserve judgment....but with the guy not being able to give straight, honest answers to questions, it makes me think he got lost in the potential accolades of a 20K cash seizure. I can't believe this guy's agency let him sit in front of a camera. The cop admits that the guy told him the money was to buy a car on eBay, but doesn't have a reason for not putting that in the report. Hey guy, that's called "exculpatory evidence." Seriously? Was he absent the day they taught policing at the Police Academy?
The reporter asked him a direct question...did you have proof that the money was used for drugs? Rather than answering in the negative, then qualifying his answer, he redirects and says the guy didn't have proof it was legitimate. Guess what? THIS IS AMERICA! It's not illegal to possess cash. I don't have to prove a single thing to you on the side of the road unless you have an articulable nexus of criminal activity. But, now that you mention it...he DID try to prove it. By telling you he was going to buy a car, and SHOWING YOU the eBay paperwork!
Oh, and I can't forget the part about the money being concealed "as to avoid detection by law enforcement." The money was put into a position as to conceal it from law enforcement, but the guy TELLS the cop where the money is in the car? How about he concealed it to hide it from thieving, threacherous MFers who would love to have 22K in cash? Of-freaking-COURSE he's going to conceal it! Where else was he going to carry it? Around his neck like a Hawaiian cash lei? :mad:
Again...there should be no hoops to jump through to get my own lawfully possessed cash back. Yes, CASH. A check for the equal amount of the cash seized is NOT the property that you took from me. Those bills should not have gone ANYWHERE but into a locked box, and the cash is what he should have gotten back. He wasn't an inmate being booked into a jail. That was his lawful property that the city admitted it had no right to have. I would expect my property be returned to me in the same condition it was seized. Maybe I'm someone without an account or means to cash that check. Whatever. The reason doesn't matter. You take 22K in cash from me, GIVE. IT. BACK. And he had to sign something stating he wouldn't sue? That smacks of coercion to me...if you want to see your money, which you took all necessary (bullsh*t) steps to get back, then sign this. Not sure if that was on the city's part or what. So he is now legally forbidden to sue for a 1983 4A violation?
BS, BS, BS!
Oh, no! I must fix this!
Originally Posted by Five-0
My real, completely true and put my hand on a stack of Bibles, let me tell you the truth feelings are that they shouldn't have stopped with the cash. Seize the car, it was used in transporting the cash. And the guy's clothes, too... since cash was probably in his pockets at least once. Then, go back and seize his house, too... The cash may have been in it sometime. And the banks... they're gone, too! They hold cash, and give it to drug dealing scum.
And the guy should have been beaten within an inch of his life for questioning the cops. Really, we know drug money when we see it. He should be thankful they didn't seize his eyeballs and hands by force, since they touched the money or looked at it.
In a country founded on freedom, a State's argument consisting of "... and you can't prove its not illegally held..." is inherently illegitimate. It is precisely the type of argument which will, as Mac has pointed out, cause the courts to throw out ALL asset seizures involving law enforcement interdiction activities.
Forfeiture is a great tool but if we abuse it, we lose it. This, as reported, is an abuse.
Best. Quote. Ever.
Originally Posted by Five-0
Five-0, link this thread back in the tigerdroppings board if you can. Those guys need to see the perspectives here.
Already done. The thread died shortly there after because you guys absolutely suck at living up to most of the jack booted thug template. There are some reasonable posters there, but this was for the ones that asked where I was in the early part of the thread.
Originally Posted by countybear