We have previously discussed how police are increasingly doing drug stops on pretextual grounds and seizing any money that a driver cannot explain to their satisfaction. It is called “policing for profit” and departments are able to keep much of seized money in these stops. The federal government is being forced to return over $1 million to Tara Mishra, 33, of California, who was taking her life savings as a stripper to buy her own business. That was before it was seized by Nebraska state troopers who declared that it must be drug proceeds. Even though no drugs were found and there was no basis for concluding the cash was from drug proceeds, the matter became a federal case and the Obama Administration fought her to deny her even a hearing for demanding the money back. Now U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon has ordered them to give back the money. However, this is not considered theft because police officers took the money at a traffic stop. The case is United States of America v. $1,074,900.00 in United States Currency, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11544 (D. Neb. 2013).
Mishra has been a stripper since 18 and wanted to make something better for her life. She gave the money to friends Rajesh and Marina Dheri, of Montville, N.J., to buy a nightclub with them in New Jersey — a business that she would own half of. The Dheris were in a rental car when Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Ryan Hayes pulled them over for speeding. This is an easy pretext for stops since most people travel above the speed limit on highways. As is often the case, the stop turned into a drug search and the officers asked if they could search the car. The couple consent and they found the money.
The camera system inside Trooper Hayes’ cruiser captured the Dheris’ converation as Trooper Hayes searched the vehicle. Id. ¶ 13. Mrs. Dheri asked Mr. Dheri, “What are you saying it is? Am I going to say I knew what it was or not?” Id. Mr. Dheri responded, “He asked me if there was money in the car and I said no.” Id. Mrs. Dheri later stated, “He’s going to ask you-you answer. It is not ours, it is our friends’.” Id. The Dheris also discussed the total amount of the money and stated the money was “about a million.” Id.
Trooper Hayes discovered three pieces of luggage in the vehicle’s rear cargo area. Id. ¶ 10. There were two duffel bags and one backpack. Id. In one duffel bag, there were several dryer sheets in the bottom of the bag and a drawstring bag that held three, large Ziplock baggies, each of which contained several rubber-banded bundles of money. Id. The second duffel bag contained empty Ziplock baggies and a drawstring bag that held several rubber-banded bundles of money. Id.
No drugs were found. However, a dog found traces of drugs on the money — and extremely common fact about currency in our society. A study in England founds that, like the United States, paper currency is saturated with drug residue and it is not simply money from drug areas or transactions.
I can understand the suspicion of the officer but I am confused why the Justice Department litigated the matter for years when there appears no connection to drug transactions.
The Justice Department continued to insist that it could keep the money but the court ruled “The government failed to show a substantial connection between drugs and the money” and added that “The court finds the Mishras’ story is credible.”
Bataillon ordered that Mishra receive cash or a check in the value of $1,074,000 with interest.
I am unclear of why the Justice Department gets away with dragging on such litigation without a factual basis for the allegation of a drug transaction. They put this woman through years of litigation and, even under the exceptionally generous rules and standards for seizure, could not make a case for treating the money as drug money.