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United States v. Funds In Amount of $574

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 31, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff,
v.
FUNDS IN THE AMOUNT OF $574, 840; FUNDS IN THE AMOUNT OF $63, 184; FUNDS IN THE AMOUNT OF $2, 000; FUNDS IN THE AMOUNT OF $856; and FUNDS IN THE AMOUNT OF $21, 100, Defendants. STEPHEN UNSWORTH, and RACHEL PILLSBURY, Claimants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN, District Judge.

In this in rem action, the Government seeks forfeiture of funds in the amount of $574, 840; $63, 184; $2, 000; $856; and $21, 000 ("Funds") pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), alleging the funds were "furnished and intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance, are the proceeds from the sale of a controlled substance, and was property used and intended to be used to facilitate narcotics trafficking, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. " Claimants Stephen Unsworth and Rachel Pillsbury filed verified claims alleging ownership and possession of the Funds. On July 3, 2014, Claimants moved to suppress [103] the Funds as evidence obtained as a result of illegal searches and seizures. Before the Court set a briefing schedule on Claimants' motion to suppress, the Government filed a motion to compel [115] Claimants' responses to special interrogatories propounded under Supplemental Rule G(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Based on the foregoing, Claimants' motion to suppress is denied without prejudice, and the Government's motion to compel is granted.

Background

This forfeiture in rem arises from a marijuana trafficking investigation that resulted in Claimants Unsworth and Pillsbury being charged and prosecuted in Circuit Court of Cook County with various drug trafficking crimes. In their drug trafficking case, Claimants' moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of warrantless searches and seizures. Officer Yandell, a police officer in Champaign County, testified during the pre-trial suppression hearing. He explained that the investigation into Unsworth and Pillsbury began when law enforcement received a tip from individuals claiming to have purchased approximately 110 pounds of marijuana from Unsworth on three separate occasions and explained that Pillsbury and Unsworth were in a romantic relationship. Yandell found that Unsworth had a Colorado address and Pillsbury had a Chicago address. The investigation also revealed that Unsworth had marijuana trafficking cases in Cook County, Illinois, and in Florida. Yandell contacted Agent Healy with the DEA taskforce and learned that Healy had an ongoing investigation of Unsworth. Two days after speaking with Healy, on June 10, 2011, Yandell, installed a covert Global Positioning System "(GPS") tracking unit on a Dodge minivan with a Colorado license plate that was registered to Unsworth. The vehicle was located inside the parking garage of Claimants' apartment complex. (Dkt. 103, Exh. A.) Yandell asserts that he entered the building through the unlocked west door. He did not have a warrant to install the GPS unit. The GPS unit was battery-operated and did not take up any space in the car that would have been reserved for passengers or packages. The GPS also did not alter the vehicle's appearance.

The tracking data obtained from the GPS unit on June 20, 2011 indicated that the vehicle visited a storage facility on Ogden Avenue in Cicero, Illinois, on three occasions. Yandell contacted Healy, who obtained an administrative subpoena to search the storage unit. That same day, officers went to the storage facility and spoke to the facility staff and learned that Pillsbury was renting a storage unit. The officers conducted a canine search of the unit which led to the seizure of $574, 840.

Healy testified during the State court suppression hearing that he was a member of the Evergreen Park police department and a member of the Drug Enforcement Agency taskforce. He learned during his investigation that Unsworth had previously been arrested by the Chicago Police Department and charged in 2007 "with approximately 300 pound[s] of marijuana that was stored in a storage unit."[1] (Dkt. 103, Exh. 2, at 83). On June 17, 2011, Healy placed a tracking device on the outside of Unsworth's vehicle and he repositioned Yandell's device, which was not working properly. He did not have a warrant to place the device on the vehicle and testified that, at the time, a warrant was not required in Illinois. (Dkt. 103, Exh. 2, at 86.) He spoke with an Assistant State's Attorney and understood that there was no law at the time requiring a search warrant to place a tracking device on the outside of vehicles. Healy also testified that he entered the garage of Claimants' apartment building through an unlocked door on the west side of building that led into the garage.

DEA Agent Kosmowski testified during the suppression hearing that Healy informed him of the positive canine sniff at Unsworth's storage locker. Kosmowski and a team of officers then went to Unsworth and Pillsbury's apartment complex to conduct surveillance. Kosmowski entered the garage with two other officers. Unsworth approached and asked whether they were police and they replied that they were. Unsworth asked if the officers were there to investigate car burglaries and thefts. Kosmowski replied that he was conducting an investigation, but did not specify what he was investigating. Kosmowski also asked Unsworth for identification, which Unsworth did not have, and then Kosmowski asked if he could pat down Unsworth for the officers' safety and Unsworth said yes. After patting him down, Unsworth and the officers entered the apartment building lobby and were joined by Agents Wood and Zieminski. Unsworth offered to escort the officers upstairs so he could get his identification to show the officers.

When Unsworth led the officers into the apartment, he retrieved his identification from the kitchen. Agent Wood told Unsworth that the officers were investigating him regarding his involvement in trafficking marijuana and asked whether Unsworth had any drugs in the apartment. Unsworth said he had marijuana but that it was for personal use. Unsworth showed the officers the marijuana that he stored in three to four 10-inch glass jars in a kitchen cabinet. There appeared to be more than 500 grams of marijuana. Kosmowski also observed large Ziploc baggies that had been torn open, a heat sealer, and about five cell phones. In Kosmowski's experience, such paraphernalia are consistent with drug trafficking. Agent Wood asked Unsworth whether he consented to a search. When Unsworth refused, the officers placed him in custody. Pillsbury appeared from another room in the apartment and they also placed her under arrest after confirming her identity. The officers then obtained a search warrant which led to the searches of Claimants' apartment, vehicles, storage lockers held in their names in Cicero, Illinois, and Denver, Colorado, and the seizures of the Funds.

Other testimony at the State court suppression hearing included that of DEA Agent Wood who testified consistently with the other officers and Officer Howard who testified about the positive canine sniff.

Private investigator Laskey testified at the State court suppression hearing on behalf of Claimants. The defense hired him to investigate the door in Claimants' garage where Yandell and Healy testified they entered to install the GPS unit. The officers testified that the door was unlocked when they entered. Laskey's investigation revealed, however, that the door was actually a very heavy fire exit door that remained locked from the outside and could only be opened using a push-bar from the inside. Moreover, the door had not been altered or repaired since at least the end of 2009.

The Circuit Court granted Claimants' motion to suppress in its entirety and the criminal charges against them were eventually dismissed. (Dkt. 103, Exh. 2, at 441-46.) On November 3, 2011, prior to the dismissal of the criminal charges, the Government brought the instant civil forfeiture claim. Unsworth and Pillsbury both filed claims opposing forfeiture of the defendant properties and then in January 2012, they moved to stay the civil forfeiture case until the conclusion of the criminal case. The district court denied the motion to stay, finding that Unsworth and Pillsbury lacked standing to contest the forfeiture. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded ( U.S. v. Funds in the Amount of $574, 840, 719 F.3d 648, 651 (7th Cir. 2013)), and the case was reassigned to this Court. Before the Court are two motions: Claimants' motion to suppress and the Government's motion to compel responses to special interrogatories.

Discussion

1. Standing to Contest the Forfeiture

Standing is a threshold issue that the Court must resolve before reaching Claimants' motion to suppress [103] and the Government's motion to compel [115]. A claimant in a civil forfeiture proceeding must have both statutory standing and Article III constitutional standing. Establishing standing to contest a forfeiture is not a demanding standard to achieve. See U.S. v. 5 S 351 Tuthill Road, Naperville, Ill., 233 F.3d 1017, 1022 (7th Cir. 2000) (describing the Article III standing requirements as "undemanding"). "[T]o have standing, a claimant need not establish that a right of his has been infringed; that would conflate the issue of standing with the merits of the suit. Instead, he ...


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