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United States v. $64

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

May 31, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$64, 895.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, more or less, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.

This is a civil forfeiture action which is before the court upon plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. This action arises from the seizure of $64, 895.00 in United States currency on October 22, 2010 during a traffic stop on I-70 in Saline County, Kansas. Plaintiff contends that the money constitutes drug proceeds and is forfeitable pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881 (a)(6).[1] Claimant Michael Shaw contends that the money was legitimately earned and intended for the purchase of a commercial welding rig.

Plaintiff's burden of proof

Plaintiff has the burden of proof to establish that the currency is properly subject to forfeiture by a preponderance of the evidence. 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(1). Plaintiff must prove that there is a substantial connection between the currency and drug trafficking. U.S. v. $252, 300.00 in U.S. Currency, 484 F.3d 1271, 1273 (10th Cir. 2007) Plaintiff is not required to connect the currency in question to a particular drug transaction. U.S. v. $21, 055.00 in U.S. Currency, 778 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1103 (D.Kan. 2011). It is sufficient if plaintiff can establish that the currency is the proceeds of drug trafficking generally. Id. at 1104.

Uncontroverted facts

Plaintiff seeks to meet its burden with the following facts which are undisputed by claimant. Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Scott Walker stopped a 1997 Mercury Marquis for a traffic violation on I-70 in Salina County, Kansas on October 22, 2010. Claimant Michael Shaw was the driver of the car; Forrest Jones was a passenger in the car. Shaw told Trooper Walker that they were driving from Davenport, Iowa to Phoenix, Arizona to attend car races. Trooper Walker could smell a strong odor of air freshener from inside the car and he saw multiple cell phones. Through the dispatcher, Trooper Walker confirmed that Shaw's driver's license was suspended or revoked and that he had a marijuana conviction. Trooper Walker also did a computer search and discovered that the car races in Arizona were three weeks away.

Shaw told Trooper Walker that he was carrying about fifty thousand dollars in the trunk of the car because he was going to purchase a commercial welding rig. Shaw opened the trunk of the car and stated there was about "sixty grand" in a bag. Trooper Walker saw seven bundles of vacuum sealed currency in a bag in the trunk of the car. The packaging of the money was consistent with packaging associated with drug trafficking, according to Trooper Walker. Trooper Walker has training and experience in drug investigations.

Trooper Walker seized the money which later was determined to be $64, 895.00. Shaw was interviewed by DEA Special Agent Greg Anderson and DEA Task Force Officer David Heim. Shaw told them that the money was around $65, 000 and that he had saved the money at his house over the last three or four years. Shaw said he was a self-employed welder and made between $50, 000 and $60, 000 per year. Shaw said he did not have any welding jobs set up in the future; that he owned his own truck with a welding rig in the truck; and that he did not have any leads about trucks or rigs for sale in Phoenix. A narcotics detection dog alerted to the odor of controlled substances coming from the currency, which officers had hidden from the dog under an overturned trash can.[2]

Approximately four months after the traffic stop in Saline County, Kansas, on March 10, 2011, Shaw was arrested after another traffic stop in Lancaster County, Nebraska. Nebraska State Patrol officers seized fifty-five pounds of marijuana from Shaw's vehicle. Shaw told the officers that he had rented the vehicle in Davenport, Iowa and driven it to Glendale, Arizona where he received the marijuana. Forrest Jones was again in the vehicle with Shaw. Shaw stated that he was going to pay Jones $4, 000.00 for driving because Shaw did not have a valid driver's license. Shaw also stated that he expected to receive $26, 000 to $30, 000 for the marijuana in the car. Shaw said he made the trip to Arizona to buy marijuana every two months over the last fifteen months for a total of seven to eight trips. He further told the Nebraska patrol officers that on his fifth trip to Arizona to deliver money and pick up marijuana, he was stopped in Kansas and officers seized $65, 000.00. Shaw described the money seized in Kansas as drug proceeds which he intended to exchange for marijuana in Arizona. Shaw was arrested and convicted of possession of marijuana after the March 10, 2011 traffic stop in Nebraska.

Shaw's W-2 forms show the following income in recent years: 2006 - $9, 100.97; 2007 - $32, 852.00; 2008 - $63, 466.74; 2009 - $8, 736.00.

Shaw told the officers in Kansas that the $64, 895 was money he had saved from jobs he had worked and that he had the currency packaged with a vacuum seal because it would look more professional and that he was proud of his earned money.

Shaw's evidence

Shaw has stated in an affidavit filed in response to plaintiff's summary judgment motion that his statements to the Nebraska law enforcement officers were false and coerced by the promise that he would receive more lenient treatment on the criminal drug charge. Shaw has also stated in the affidavit that the Kansas money was ...


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