United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. BROOMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary
judgment filed by claimant Nathan Duckworth
(“Duckworth”). (Doc. 50.) The motion has been
fully briefed and is ripe for decision. (Docs. 53, 59, 64.)
The motion is DENIED for the reasons set forth herein.
United States brought this action seeking forfeiture of $144,
780 in currency pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). It
alleges the money was intended to be used to purchase
controlled substances or represented proceeds from the sale
of controlled substances. Duckworth claims to be the lawful
and rightful owner of the money. (Doc. 5). Duckworth argues
the Government is unable to cite evidence that the source or
destination of the money was related to controlled substance
Duckworth lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with his wife
Jennifer and their young daughter. Duckworth has a concert
promotion business in Kansas City under the name
“Building Bridges Entertainment, LLC, ” a
Missouri organization in good standing. The business was
organized in Missouri in January of 2015.
was westbound on I-70 on May 12, 2015, when he was stopped
for speeding in Ellis County, Kansas, by Kansas Highway
Patrol Trooper James McCord. Duckworth was driving a rented
2015 Chevy Tahoe. (Doc. 59-2). Walter Weathers, Jr., was a
passenger in the car. There was no luggage in the car and the
rental vehicle was due back in Kansas City that same day.
Duckworth told McCord he was going to Colorado for a family
vacation. (Id.). Weathers similarly told another
officer that they were going to visit Duckworth's family.
Weathers told McCord he did not have any identification on
him, although it was later shown that he did have his
informed the men that he smelled burnt marijuana in the car.
Duckworth and Weathers both denied that any marijuana had
been smoked in the vehicle, and Duckworth asked that a drug
dog be brought to the scene. McCord subsequently searched the
vehicle. He found marijuana “gleanings” on the
floor of the car. (Doc. 52 at 20). McCord also searched a
backpack and found a large amount of cash ($144, 780) in
vacuum-sealed plastic wrapping inside a zippered container.
The lawfulness of the stop, search, and seizure were
previously litigated in this case on Duckworth's motion
to suppress, with the Government prevailing. (Doc. 36).
testified that in his experience, wrapping large amounts of
currency in vacuum-sealed packages is common in the drug
trafficking industry, and that the packages he seized from
Duckworth's car were consistent with drug trafficking
proceeds he has seen in other cases. (Doc. 59-2). After the
money was seized, a certified narcotics-sniffing dog was
deployed and indicated to the odor of controlled substances
coming from the $144, 780. (Doc. 59-3).
October 12, 2014, about seven months prior to the
above-incident, Duckworth and his spouse were traveling on
I-70 in Ellsworth County, Kansas, in a rented vehicle, when
they were stopped for speeding by Kansas Highway Patrol
Trooper R.M. Wolting. During that stop, Wolting found nine
pounds of marijuana in vacuum-sealed bags, a loaded Sig Sauer
.45 caliber pistol, and $5, 320 in U.S. currency in the
vehicle. (Doc. 59-4). The Government cites evidence that
Duckworth told the trooper at the time of the stop that the
marijuana was his. (Id.).
cites evidence of receipts and contracts, allegedly from his
music promotion business, indicating that his business
sponsored various events, particularly at Encore Nightclub in
Kansas City in 2014 and 2015. (Doc. 53-3). The documents
indicate Duckworth collected door entry fees from customers
for sponsored concerts or parties, and that he was entitled
to keep such receipts less expenses for various items.
Receipts in the name of the Encore Nightclub indicate on
their face that Duckworth may have collected door receipts of
approximately $167, 000 during the six-month period prior to
May 12, 2015.
cites evidence that on May 12, 2015, he was taking the cash
in his vehicle to Denver to invest it in a proposed 12-city
tour of musical artists. (Doc. 53-8 at 65). Duckworth
testified he had communicated on social media with an
individual named Ruben Romero in Denver, who operated a
business called EnV Entertainment, and that they had a plan
to organize and promote such a tour. Romero, for his part,
testified that the two men communicated on social media about
putting together a tour of musicians, and that what Duckworth
was interested in would have cost $140, 000 to $160, 000
“to get it started.” (Doc. 53-4 at 3). Duckworth
states in an affidavit that in his experience, “it is
common in the music industry, particularly among African
American artists, to deal in cash” and that when large
amounts of cash are involved, “they are often shrink
wrapped in plastic.” (Doc. 64-1).
Government cites evidence that Romero, who previously spent
time in state prison for a felony marijuana offense, had
never produced a concert before. He had no idea of what
cities the proposed tour would have gone to. The parties had
no written agreement. Romero is a musician and his business
entity was created to sell his own compact discs, although it
hardly sold any. He and Duckworth never met in person. Nearly
a year after Duckworth was stopped and the money was seized,
Duckworth emailed Romero and asked him to provide “what
a contract would have looked like” for the proposed
tour. Romero drafted such a document. It cites the sum of
$140, 000 to be paid by Building Bridges (i.e., Duckworth) as
the promoter of the tour, which Romero said was “just a
rough ballpark estimate of what it would have originally
[cost].” Duckworth testified that $40, 000 of the
seized cash was a loan from Mustafa Ali, who operated a car
rental business in Kansas City. (Doc. 59-1 at 21). Mr. Ali
testified he loaned Duckworth $40, 000 in May of 2015, with
the understanding that Duckworth would pay it back together
with 50% interest ($20, 000) within two months. Ali testified
he gave Duckworth the money out of $43, 000 in cash that Ali
had at his house. Ali testified he understood he was
investing in a musical tour of some sort, although he did not
ask about details.
cites deposition testimony of his accountant, Connie
Neighbors, who said Duckworth “could have had”
$100, 000 available to him from his promotion business and
from his wife's hair salon. The Government cites evidence
that Neighbors' analysis of Duckworth's finances was
essentially based on receipts provided by Duckworth, as to
which she had no personal knowledge.
was also the accountant for Mustafa Ali. Sometime after the
cash was seized from Duckworth, Ali referred Duckworth to
Neighbors. In 2011, Duckworth had filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
(Doc. 59-1 at 50). In 2012, he reported income of $12, 643 on
his federal income tax return. (Id. at 99). In 2013,
he reported income of $17, 809. (Id. at 113). Prior
to the cash seizure on May 12, 2015, Duckworth had reported
income of $17, 059 on his 2014 federal return. Duckworth
hired Neighbors sometime prior to October of 2015. In ...