What would have been a simple traffic stop in Wyoming turned into a nightmare as a Wisconsin man lost his entire life savings to asset forfeiture.
The man, Phil Parhamovich, was pulled over earlier in March of this year for a lane deviation and failure to use his seatbelt. After the stop was over, Parhamovich was down nearly $92,000. Many months later, he has won the money back in court.
The traffic stop in Wyoming started as routine, with Parhamovich answering the officer’s questions politely. But soon, he was ordered to get out of his car and into the patrol car. And then, the officers asked a pivotal question – “Is there anything in your vehicle that I should know about, such as guns, drugs, large amounts of cash, amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, LSD, etc.?”
In a release regarding this case, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian civil liberties law firm, said that questions like this “are designed to be confusing because they group perfectly legal activities – like carrying large amounts of cash – with illegal ones – like trafficking in illegal drugs. Questions like these are also designed to mislead by suggesting the carrying large amounts of cash is illegal.”
When Parhamovich answered no, the officer became suspicious. The officer then called for a drug-sniffing dog to search the car. After a thorough search, Phil Parhamovich’s life savings was found inside of a speaker in the back of his car.
By that time, an official from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation had arrived at the scene, where he told Parhamovich that he needed to sign a document disclaiming his ownership of the cash. Surrounded by law enforcement officers and far away from his home in Wisconsin, he didn’t know what would happen if he didn’t sign the waiver. “I asked them a bunch of times what it was and what happens if I don’t sign it, but I couldn’t get a clear answer and was extremely worried.”
The document waived his right to contest its forfeiture, and stated his intent to give the property to the State of Wyoming’s DCI, “to be used for narcotics law enforcement purposes.” Parhamovich challenged the waiver, and after the state declared the money “abandoned property” in a hearing that Parhamovich did not attend, the case went to court.
The case was taken up by the Institute for Justice. “This has been a nightmare for me,” Parhamovich said, “If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I am fighting with the Institute for Justice to make sure that law enforcement agencies – not just in Wyoming, but in every state – cannot take innocent people’s money for no reason.”
Earlier this month, a Wyoming court ruled that Parhamovich’s money was legally obtained and thus should be returned to him, ending a seven-month struggle for the aspiring music studio owner.
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