On January 28, Oscar Osorio was driving a Honda Civic through Alachua County in northern Florida when he was pulled over. Deputy Jasper Stephenson, a member of the Alachua County Drug Task Force Domestic Highway Enforcement Team, had observed Osorio tailgating another vehicle in violation of Florida state statutes.
Osorio showed Deputy Stephenson his Mexican identification card, but he did not have a valid driver’s license on him. Together with Osorio in the car was Belisario Osorio-Santiago (no relationship was specified in reports); Osario explained to the deputy that he and Osorio-Santiago had driven from Oxnard near Los Angeles in California to St. Pete Beach in central Florida to meet a friend.
Deputy Stephenson became suspicious when Osorio explained he had only stayed in St. Pete Beach for one day before beginning the drive back to California. Stephenson called for backup, and Officer David Rodriguez responded to the call.
Osorio agreed to let the police search his car and said he had neither any large sums of cash nor any contraband items in the vehicle. Deputy Stephenson found a backpack containing a large amount of money, later determined to be $16,840.00.
At first, Osorio said he had been giving the money to drive an unnamed person from California to Florida. Later, Osorio revised his story, saying instead that he had been given the money in return for transporting ten pounds of marijuana. Osorio said worked on a marijuana farm back in California and earned $15 an hour—which amounts to about $30,000 per year. He explained he was poor and had little money in his bank account. While working in California, Osorio says he was approached by an individual who said he would give Osorio $3,000 if he drove the marijuana to St. Pete’s Beach.
Osorio-Santiago said he had joined Osorio on the road trip for fun and had no idea there had been any illegal activity, drugs, or large amounts of cash involved. Osorio confirmed this. Deputy Stephenson seized the cash and released Osorio and Osorio-Santiago.
On June 26, law enforcement filed documents with the court to carry out civil asset forfeiture on the cash. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal procedure where a law enforcement agency, in this instance, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), takes possession of an individual’s property because it is suspected of being involved in a crime. In Florida, a criminal conviction is not required before property is seized.
According to state law, authorities must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that property was involved in a crime for it to be forfeited. However, by partnering with federal agencies such as the DEA, local law enforcement can avoid these restrictions by forfeiting property using the federal equitable sharing program. In the case of equitable sharing, a lower standard of proof—”a preponderance of the evidence”—is required. The money found in Osorio’s car is being forfeited using equitable sharing.
“Based upon the aforementioned facts and my training and experience,” wrote Deforrest Houston of the DEA who wrote the affidavit submitted to the court. “I submit that the United States currency described herein constitute proceeds obtained through and traceable to criminal activity… and are therefore subject to seizure and forfeiture.”
Police were unable to find any criminal history relating to either Osorio or Osorio-Santiago.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.