We have previously discussed “policing for dollars” or “churning” where they seize cash, particularly on highways, as suspected drug money even without actually arresting or charging the drivers. It raises a huge amount of money for police departments and has been widely criticized as abusive. The latest victim of churning appears to be Charles Clarke, 24, who was on his way to take classes at the University of Central Florida. He was stopped at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Ky. with his life savings that he was taking with him for safe keeping and to support his education. Since he could not “prove” the source of the money, agents seized the $11,000 and, despite dropping all charges against him, has thus far refused to return the money despite Clarke’s efforts.
The stop at the airport occurred after an airline employee reported that Clarke’s luggage smelled of marijuana. Police told him that he was free to go but asked to search him and his bags. Rather than walk away, Clarke consented and immediately told them that he had the cash on him. They found no drugs and he admitted that he had smoked marijuana before going to the airport.
DEA agent William Conrad, a Cincinnati-based officer with a DEA task force,and Detective Christopher Boyd said that when they grabbed the money, Clarke grabbed approached Boyd’s wrist. They responded by criminally charging him with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct — charges later dropped after they took the money.
Conrad’s affidavit insisted that the seizure was perfectly justified “based on probable cause that it was proceeds of drug trafficking or was intended to be used in an illegal transaction.” The “Mitigating factors” cited by Conrad was the purchase of a one-way ticket, inability to provide documentation noting where the money came from, a positive hit by a drug dog and the strong smell of marijuana on his checked luggage. Yet Clarke admitted to smoking pot and there was a perfectly good reason for a one-way ticket for a college student. Finally, if Conrad was asked to prove the source of the money in his wallet, I expect he would have had the same difficulty in producing receipts or a financial statement.
The United States attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky appears to have no comment on the arrest, dropped charges, or money seizure. There is a presumption of guilt until proven otherwise. It is simply thrown on the pile of $6.8 billion in cash and property has been seized through the “Equitable Sharing Program.” While only two agencies were involved in stripping Clarke of his life savings, some 11 agencies across Kentucky and Ohio claim cuts in such proceeds.