On October 25, 2018, Andres Mauricio Escorica Martinez was driving a white 2018 Volvo in Coconut Creek in southern Florida. A police officer approached the vehicle when he saw the car was parked with its lights on.
Escorcia Martinez showed the officer his Colombian driver’s license and confirmed that he had nothing illegal in the car. The officer noticed a shopping back in the back of the car which appeared to contain money. Escorcia Martinez then consented to his vehicle being searched. The officer verified that the shopping bag contained several bundles of cash. He then found a backpack which also contained cash.
The money totaled $67,040. The police seized the cash, and in May 2019, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the cash. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal procedure where police may take possession of an individual’s property or cash if it is suspect of being involved in a crime. In most states, criminal charges do not need to be filed against the owner of the assets. Indeed, in this case, there are no related criminal charges against Escorcia Martinez.
K-9 officers from the Davie and Coconut Creek Police Departments arrived on the scene. The K-9 alerted officers to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle. According to the court filing, “currency bundled with rubber bands is commonly encountered by law enforcement agents when they are investigating crimes such as the narcotics distribution and money laundering.”
After further questioning, Escorcia Martinez said he had paid Columbian pesos to a man known as Juan Lozano back in Columbia. In return, Escorcia Martinez received the $67,040 in cash once he was in the United States. He then said he had been asked to take the money to an unnamed woman in Broward County. Escorcia Martinez gave several conflicting stories about the intended purpose of his meeting with the woman, sources allege. Escorcia Martinez gave no further details about the woman or Juan Lozano. Escorcia Martinez claims he is self-employed, making money buying and selling various items.
In 2016, then-governor Rick Scott signed into law reforms of the state’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. Among these reforms was the requirement that most forfeitures must be preceded by an arrest. Also, the reforms raised the standard of evidence for property to be seized from “clear and convincing evidence” up to the same standard of proof required for criminal case—“beyond a reasonable doubt.”
However, arrests are not required before cash—rather than other property, such as a car—is seized, which is why officers were still able to take the money from Escorcia Martinez. To avoid restrictive state procedures, law enforcement agencies will often partner with the feds using the “equitable sharing” program. By partnering with federal agencies, local law enforcement agencies are able to bypass state restrictions on forfeitures. The local agencies also retain 80 percent of the proceeds from the forfeiture. Under equitable sharing, only a low standard of evidence—a preponderance of the evidence—is required to secure forfeiture.
According to the court filing, “The quantity of the number of bills bundled [and found in the car driven by Escorcia Martinez] and the face value of those bills is indicative of payments for street-level narcotics sales.”
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.