A $2 million dollar per year business was cut down in one swift stroke from Alabama law enforcement earlier this year.
Alabama resident, entrepreneur, and Rotary Club ambassador Jamey Vibbert lost his business when he was branded a felon for selling two cars reportedly purchased with drug money. The heavy-handed Alabama police lieutenant and District Attorney’s office strung Vibbert’s case along until it had ruined his business, despite the fact that the case was thrown out by two separate judges.
It all started with a young man who bought cars from Vibbert’s dealership back in 2015. He bought them in cash, heeding Vibbert’s advice and establishing trusted lienholders for the cars, who were titled under others’ names as gifts. Not long after a few purchases, the buyer was arrested for an alleged drug crime, and authorities began looking into the buyer’s assets. Among them, of course, were the vehicles purchased from Vibbert. Finding out that it would cost his employer nearly the value of the cars ($25,000) to have them forfeited due to the title being in others’ names, Lt. Demetrius Bogan of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency began investigating Vibbert, and soon after he was being prosecuted for crimes likened to money laundering. “He’s falsifying titles to protect a drug dealer’s vehicles from government seizure,” the prosecutor said.
Vibbert, for his part, was just doing what plenty of car salesmen do across the nation. For example, he advised young people buying cars for their significant others to add lienholders to protect them from losing their property over a bad breakup. Even the judge for the trial had done something similar. In court, the judge interrupted the prosecutor to observe that he had recently purchased a car, titled it to his son, and then sent the title to his own address rather than his son’s, which was a similar situation to what Vibbert had advised his allegedly drug-dealing buyer. “Is that falsifying a title?” the judge asked. The prosecutor responded, “Possibly. I would need a little more information.”
Although the judge ultimately ruled in Vibbert’s favor, he was not unscathed by the time the verdict was delivered. Before the case was ever argued in court, Bogan had taken $25,000 out of Vibbert’s bank account, which was allowed under Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture laws where individual police officers can seize cash and other items they believe are connected to criminal activity. Once seized, the property is prosecuted in order for the state to keep it, but in the mean time cannot be accessed by the owner. Bogan reportedly boasted of the seizure to Vibbert over the phone, and the money was not returned until many months after the trial took place.
Vibbert had planned on using the $25,000 to restock his inventory, which was only the tip of the iceberg. What was worse was the tarnish to reputation – his lenders suspended credit lines, people stopped buying from him, and he had to remove his visible presence from a business that he had grown with his personality and connection to his community.
Vibbert spoke at length about the toll that civil asset forfeiture took on him: “It’s still a nightmare. It hasn’t ended. You would think that it would end, but the problem you have is, you’ve got people who just don’t know the truth, and they assume, ‘ok, it’s this.’ And I worked so hard to build what I had. And the thing is, how they can do that, and get away with it? And they drug me through it. When they finally found out the truth, they didn’t stop. They didn’t stop! It was just like, ‘We don’t care.’”
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