In the early hours of January 10, 2017, Zhimin Peng of Chicago was traveling through Boone County, Missouri when he was pulled over by Deputy Patrick Richardson. Peng had been driving his rental car at 94 mph. Together with Peng in the car was Ting Wei Huang. They told Richardson that they were on a short break from college and were traveling from Chicago to San Francisco.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Matt Halford soon joined Richardson. Halford obtained permission to search Huang’s possessions. When Halford opened a bag in the trunk, he saw it contained a large amount of cash. Another officer, Kevin Purdy of the Columbia Police Department arrived with his drug dog, Duncan; the dog alerted officers to the odor of narcotics in several bags in the trunk. The bags contained nearly $627,000 in cash.
At first, Huang claimed a woman gave him $400 to transport the money so she could avoid paying taxes. Later, however, he said the woman had actually paid him $900 to travel with Peng, who was delivering a package.
Peng claimed the money had been loaned to him by a friend, Lu Li. He was, he said, going to buy a house with the money. Peng admitted that he had no job and that it would take a long time to repay the cash.
When the police called Li, she confirmed the money was hers. She said her mother had given it to her. Peng, she said, was transporting her money to California so she could buy a house. She gave an address for the house and left the phone, claiming she was looking for documents to help the police with their investigations. The call was later disconnected.
The property’s realtor denied Li was in negotiations for the home. In fact, the property would not be ready for market for some time, as it was being remodeled.
Peng was given a speeding ticket, although this was later dismissed. Neither Peng, Huang, or Li have been charged with any other crime. Despite this, police seized the money. They did so using civil asset forfeiture, a legal procedure where law enforcement can seize an individual’s property or cash when it is suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, neither a criminal conviction nor even criminal charges are necessary for property to be taken.
Even though no one has been charged with a crime, federal prosecutors believe the $627,000 is drug money and therefore belongs to the United States. Li and Peng have made a claim for the return of the cash; they claim they obtained it legally and that their rights have been violated.
Investigators have uncovered further evidence that suggests the seized cash is drug money. These include “highly unusual” transactions of around $100,000 in Peng’s bank account, as well as Peng’s home address in Chicago being close to a residence known for shipping drug money from Chicago to California. Additionally, Peng is known to have associated with someone stopped for suspiciously transporting $300,000 in cash in 2016.
Li’s attorney, Darryl Goldberg, however, argued that law enforcement “lacked untainted probable cause for either the institution of this forfeiture suit… and/or the seizure of defendant property.” The trial is set for April 2019.
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.