Posted on Fri, Apr. 07, 2006


Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. - Talk about taking a bite out of crime - government lawyers tried to remove and confiscate the gold dental work known as grillz from the mouths of two men facing drug charges.

"I've been doing this for over 30 years and I have never heard of anything like this," said Richard J. Troberman, a forfeiture specialist and past president of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "It sounds like Nazi Germany when they were removing the gold teeth from the bodies, but at least then they waited until they were dead."

According to documents and lawyers involved in the case in U.S. District Court, Flenard T. Neal Jr. and Donald Jamar Lewis, charged with several drug and weapon violations, were taken on Tuesday from the Federal Detention Center to the U.S. marshal's office, where they were told the government had a warrant to seize the grills.

Before being put into a vehicle to be taken to a dentist in Seattle, they called their lawyers, who were able to halt the seizure, said Miriam Schwartz, Neal's public defender. A permanent stay of the seizure order was signed Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate J. Kelley Arnold, court documents show.

Grills, popularized by rappers such as Nelly, are customized tooth caps made of precious metals and jewels which can cost thousands of dollars for a full set. Some can be snapped onto the teeth like an orthodontic retainer, and others are permanently bonded to the teeth.

Neal and Lewis have permanently bonded grills, their lawyers said, declining to provide more description.

Government lawyers who asked a federal judge on March 29 to order confiscation of the grills said they did not know the caps had been bonded to the drug defendants' teeth.

"Asset forfeiture is a fairly routine procedure, and our attorneys were under the impression that these snapped out like a retainer," said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle.

Once the government understood that removal of the grills could damage the defendants' teeth, they abandoned the seizure attempt, she said.

Schwartz and Zenon Peter Olbertz, Lewis' lawyer, criticized what they said was a clandestine attempt to have the grills removed.

"It's shocking that this kind of action by the federal government could be sought and accomplished in secret, without anyone being notified," said Schwartz. "It reminds me of the secret detentions" in terrorist cases.

Seizure warrants are typically sealed to prevent defendants from trying to move or hide valuables and evidence, Langlie and court clerks said. They become public with the filing of a return that shows what has been seized.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com


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