Federal agents are reportedly suing the cash seized in a drug raid in Key West, Florida earlier this year to make sure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
According to news sources, federal, state, and local agents raided a Big Coppitt Key home on January 10 and seized $166,400 in cash as well as drug paraphernalia and small amounts of marijuana and cocaine.
The raid reportedly turned up fewer drugs than agents anticipated; they had expected to seize a lot more drugs after finding vacuum-sealed bags with “trace amounts” of marijuana in garbage cans outside the home. However, agents did find weighing scales covered in cannabis residue, cash, a heat sealer, and other equipment commonly used by drug dealers to pack narcotics, the U.S. attorney’s complaint said.
“The law enforcement agents recognized the heat sealing equipment as being consistent with that typically used to package narcotics, and the bundling of the money as consistent with the manner in which individuals selling drugs store the money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Rosen wrote in the complaint.
Federal agents obtained a search warrant after they found small bags containing marijuana residue inside trash cans outside the house. There were reportedly enough plastic bags to store two pounds of marijuana inside a box with the house’s address and the name Steven Leto written on the side.
It is unclear who owns the house, but agents arrested Steven Leto, Nelson Estopinan, and Marissa Estopinan in connection to the case. The woman pleaded guilty to cocaine and narcotics equipment possession in June. She was sentenced to 46 months of probation. The two accused are still awaiting trail. The press did not name attorneys for the two men.
The bundle of cash the feds seized was placed in the U.S. Marshals Service Seized Asset Account. The federal government is suing to make sure the money stays there because they suspect it was obtained from illegal drug sales.
Using civil forfeiture laws, the government can seize assets from property owners even if they have not been convicted or charged with a crime. The government can legally do this if it believes the assets facilitated a crime, no matter how weak the connection. So instead of suing the owner, the government sues their assets.
Forfeiture laws were created to fight drug trafficking, but their broadness makes them easy to abuse. Seizing assets has become a lucrative revenue stream for law enforcement agencies. In some cases, the targets of civil forfeiture are innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Whatever the case, anyone whose property has been seized by the government has a legal right to try and win back their property. But they must put forth a defense to demonstrate that their assets were obtained lawfully. If your property has been seized, make sure to hire an experienced asset forfeiture attorney to get back what’s yours.