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United States of America v. Funds In the Amount of $40

December 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge David H. Coar


On May 20, 2003, law enforcement officials seized $40,000 in cash from James Simonds ("Simonds"), who was stopped in Chicago while traveling from New York City to Lamy, New Mexico via Amtrak. The Government then instituted a forfeiture proceeding pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). On February 28, 2006, the Government filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the defendant funds should be forfeited because of the clear evidence that the funds were either proceeds of narcotics trafficking, or were intended to be used for the purchase of illegal narcotics. On the same date, James Simonds and Stephen M. Komie (collectively "Claimants") moved to suppress and quash the $40,000 seized from Simonds. On April 26, 2007, the Court held a suppression hearing on Claimants' motion. Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and Claimants' motion to suppress. In resolving these motions, the Court has considered both the briefing in this case and testimony at the suppression hearing. For the reasons set forth below, Claimants' motion to suppress is DENIED, and the Government's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I.Factual Background

On the morning of May 20, 2003, a confidential source informed Chicago Police Officer Darrell Johnson that James Simonds had purchased a one-way Amtrak ticket leaving New York, New York on that same day and destined for Lamy, New Mexico via Chicago, Illinois. (Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("PSOF") ¶ 21.) Although Simonds had purchased his ticket on May 19, 2003, the Chicago Police Department first became aware of Simonds's travel on the morning of May 20, 2003. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Once Officer Johnson was notified by the confidential source, he informed Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") Special Agent Thomas Evans ("Evans") of Simonds's travel plans around 9:00 or 9:15 a.m. on the morning of May 20, 2003. (Suppress. Hr'g Tr. 7-8, 12, Apr. 26, 2007.) Agent Evans then relayed his knowledge of Simonds's travel plans to Chicago Police Detective Eric Romano ("Romano"). (Id. at 66.)

The Chicago Police Department was notified of Simonds's travel plans because his plans fit the recognized profile of a drug courier in several respects: (1) he had purchased a one-way ticket, (2) on short notice, (3) for first-class accommodations, and (4) he was departing from New York City, a known "source city" for narcotics. (Tr. 9, 54-55; PSOF ¶¶ 23-24.) Because these characteristics often indicate a traveler's involvement in drug trafficking, Agent Evans grew suspicious and called the DEA, requesting information on James Simonds from the North American Dangerous Drug Information System ("NADDIS"). (Id. at ¶ 25.) The NADDIS database contains information on persons who are involved in DEA investigations. (Id.) A DEA employee performed the NADDIS search requested by Agent Evans and reported that his search revealed the following information about James Martin Simonds, a California resident whose date of birth is November 24, 1931:

(a) In March 2001 and May 2001, it was reported to the DEA that Simonds was a poly drug trafficker in California;

(b) In January 2001, agents checking NADDIS were to be on the lookout for Simonds because he was possibly going to smuggle LSD or MDMA into California in his luggage;

(c) In June 2000 and November 2000, Simonds was reported to be the source of 1.5 kilograms of LSD seized in California;

(d) In February 2000 and July 2000, Simonds was reported to be involved in manufacturing and distributing LSD; and

(e) In the summer of 1986, $70,000 was seized from Simonds in Denver, Colorado. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Agent Evans relayed the results of this search to Detective Romano, and based on both this information and Simonds's suspicious travel arrangements, the officers decided to approach and question Simonds while his train was stopped in Chicago. (Id. at ¶ 27.)

At approximately 3:00 p.m. on May 20, 2003, Agent Evans and Detective Romano boarded the Amtrak train and located Simonds's sleeper car. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Simonds was standing in the doorway when Evans and Romano approached his compartment, identified themselves, and produced their credentials. (Tr. 15, 19-20, 69, 108.) According to both Evans and Romano, Evans then informed Simonds that they wanted to speak with him, he was not required to speak with them, and he was not under arrest. (Id. at 20, 71.) At Agent Evans's request, Simonds produced his California driver's license and train ticket. (PSOF ¶ 30.) Evans confirmed that the birth date on Simonds's license matched the birth date in the NADDIS database, indicating that Simonds was the same person whose history of investigation for narcotics trafficking had surfaced in the DEA search. (Id. at ¶ 31.) When Agent Evans then inquired as to the purpose of Simonds's travel, Simonds responded that he was on his way home. (Id. at ¶ 31; Tr. 72, 108-09.) Simonds's claim that he was traveling "home" further raised the officers' suspicions since Simonds was traveling to New Mexico and was a resident of California. (PSOF ¶ 32.) At that point, Agent Evans began to ask Simonds questions about his baggage. Evans asked if Simonds's baggage was his, and he said yes. (Tr. 23, 109.) Evans asked if Simonds had packed his bags himself, and he also answered affirmatively. (Tr. 23.) In response to Evans's further questioning, Simonds stated that his baggage did not contain drugs, large amounts of currency, or weapons of any sort. (Tr. 24-25.)

As Agent Evans and Detective Romano questioned Simonds, they observed several examples of "nervous behavior." (Id. at 25.) Agent Evans observed that when he initially produced his credentials, Simonds "swallowed like he was swallowing poison." (Id.; PSOF ¶ 34.) According to Agent Evans, Simonds's hands were trembling when he handed Evans his train ticket and identification, and during the course of their exchange, Simonds fidgeted with his hands and avoided eye contact. (Tr. 25.) Evans found Simonds's behavior particularly significant because, in his experience, people often appear nervous when he first approaches them, but those who are not carrying contraband normally calm down as the officers' questions continue. (Id. at 57.) Instead, Simonds continued to appear nervous throughout his exchange with the officers. (Id.) As the officers proceeded to question Simonds, Detective Romano noted that Simonds appeared "extremely nervous;" he was swaying back and forth and putting one of his hands in and out of his pocket. (Id. at 73.) Concerned that Simonds might have a weapon in his pocket, Romano asked if he could check Simonds's pocket. (PSOF ¶ 47.) Simonds complied, and after crushing Simonds's pockets with his hands, Detective Romano was satisfied that Simonds was not carrying a weapon. (Tr. 74.)

As the conversation between Simonds and the officers progressed, Simonds began to equivocate in response to the officers' repeated questions about the contents of his baggage. In an effort to calm Simonds down, Detective Romano advised him that the officers were not concerned with small quantities of marijuana (e.g., a joint) if that was what he was hiding. (Tr. 47, 74-75.) Agent Evans asked Simonds again if he was carrying any weapons, drugs, or large amounts of U.S. currency, and Simonds indicated that he might be. (Tr. 34, 47, 75.) His exact response is unclear; Detective Romano testified that Simonds simply did not answer Agent Evans's inquiry, while Agent Evans testified that Simonds stated that he had something to hide. (Id.) In any case, based on Simonds's suspicious answers to the officers' questions, his nervous behavior, the information in the NADDIS database, and Simonds's travel arrangements, Agent Evans decided to seize Simonds's luggage and subject it to a dog sniff for narcotics. (PSOF ¶ 43; Tr. 27.) Evans informed Simonds that he planned to take his luggage off the train for a dog sniff in the Amtrak police office and that Simonds was free to continue on his way or accompany his luggage. (Tr. 27-29.)

Before removing Simonds's three bags from the train, Agent Evans asked him for permission to search the luggage. (Id. at 30.) Simonds responded that two of his bags were locked, and Evans asked if he could search the third bag, an unlocked gym bag. (Id. at 30-31.) According to Agent Evans, Simonds mumbled, in a hushed tone, "no, I don't think so." (Id.) Both Agent Evans and Detective Romano testified that, after some additional conversation, Simonds eventually offered them permission to search his gym bag. (Id. at 38-40, 80.) Simonds insists that he gave no such consent. (Id. at 110.) When Agent Evans unzipped Simonds's gym bag, he found 12 pounds of marijuana in plastic bags. (Id. at 40; PSOF ¶¶ 44-45.) The officers then placed Simonds under arrest and escorted him to the Amtrak interdiction office in handcuffs. (Id. at ¶ 46.)

After Simonds was arrested, an Amtrak officer called the Chicago Police Department to request that a drug-detecting canine come to the station to ...

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