United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
For United States of America, Plaintiff: Daniel Edward May, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.
For John R. Valdes, Claimant: David Martin Michael, Law Offices of David Martin Michael, San Francisco, CA; James Alfred Bustamante, PRO HAC VICE, Law Office Of James Bustamante, San Francisco, CA.
For Tracey Brown, Claimant: David Martin Michael, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of David Martin Michael, San Francisco, CA.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
James B. Zagel, United States District Judge.
This is an in rem civil forfeiture action brought by the United States pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), for forfeiture of funds in the amount of two hundred thirty-nine thousand four hundred dollars ($239,400). The Government alleges the funds were furnished in exchange for a controlled substance and were intended to be used to facilitate narcotics trafficking, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 801, et seq. John Valdes and Tracey Brown have answered the government's complaint and filed claims to contest the forfeiture pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. G(5).
Currently before me are the government's motions to strike Claimants' claims to the funds pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. G(8)(c) and for summary judgment as to the forfeiture pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the following reasons, the government's motions are granted.
The facts of the case are set forth in detail in a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on June 5, 2012, in which I denied Claimants' motion to suppress certain evidence. I assume the reader's familiarity with the opinion. Recounted briefly here, the material facts are as follows.
The case arises out of an encounter between law enforcement officers assigned to the DEA Transportation Interdiction Group at Amtrak Union Station in Chicago, Illinois and Claimant John Valdes that resulted in the seizure of $239,400 in U.S. currency. On February 11, 2011, at approximately 1:30 pm, DEA Special Agent Robert Glynn (" SA Glynn" ) and DEA Task Force Officers (" TFOs" ) Dennis Ivanich, Robert Schaller and Michael Tucker, all dressed in plainclothes, went to the first class lounge with the intention of making contact with Mr. Valdes. Mr. Valdes was laid over in Chicago for five hours on a cross country trip from Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California.
Mr. Valdes's travel itinerary had been flagged as suspicious during a passenger manifest screen because he had a one-way ticket for a private sleeper car that was purchased via a credit card issued to another individual, George Brown, shortly before the train's scheduled departure time for $824.00. These characteristics -- the lack of a return ticket, the last minute purchase in someone else's name, the high price paid, and the private sleeper car -- fit the profile of a drug courier, and the officers were seeking to investigate further.
The officers located Mr. Valdes in the first class lounge, and the parties disagree as to how the encounter then unfolded. The nature of the officers' conversation with Mr. Valdes, what precisely was sad, and whether Mr. Valdes voluntarily consented to the search of his bag were all the subject of an evidentiary hearing held on March 14, 2012 and April 16, 2012. Ultimately, I concluded that the search was valid, and I denied a motion to suppress the evidence it yielded.
Upon searching one of Mr. Valdes's bags, the officers found four packages of U.S. currency. $239,400 was found in total; the packages contained 10,000 twenty dollar bills. The four bundles of cash were each first wrapped in plastic saran wrap, then in tin foil, then each bundle was held together by rubber bands. These bundles were then wrapped in brown paper bags. " Rudy," a narcotics-sniffing dog, was brought to conduct an odor investigation of Mr. Valdes's bag. Rudy alerted for the presumptive presence of narcotic odor on the bag, though no drugs were found. Rudy did not alert anywhere else in the lounge.
Mr. Valdes acknowledged that the money was his and that he was responsible for packaging it in this manner. He asserted that he was traveling with it to purchase computer parts in California for his computer recycling business. To this date, Mr. Valdes has not come forward with any tax filings, business records, or any other documents to substantiate that assertion.
The officers told Mr. Valdes that he would be free to go, but that they would be seizing the cash for further investigation. After providing the officers with personal identification and contact information, Mr. Valdes was given a receipt for the seized currency and was allowed to leave.
On June 30, 2011, the government filed this in rem civil forfeiture action against the $239,400 in U.S. currency pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). Mr. Valdes and his wife, Tracey Brown, answered the government's complaint and filed claims contesting the forfeiture pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. G(5). Before me is the government's motion to strike Claimant's answer and claim to the defendant property pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. G(8)(c) and for summary judgment as to the forfeiture under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. As will be discussed in detail ...