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United States v. $53

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

December 12, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$53, 743.00 in U.S. Currency, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Brian Morris United States District Court Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff United States of America brought this action to forfeit $53, 743.00 in United States currency. The currency was seized during a traffic stop on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. The Government alleges that the currency is subject to forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), because it “was furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance” or was “used or intended to be used to facilitate one or more violations of 21 U.S.C. § 841, et seq.” (Doc. 1 at 13).

         Presently before the Court is Claimant Vanessa Camper's (Camper's) motion to dismiss. Camper seeks an order to dismiss the Government's Verified Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court conducted a hearing on the motion on November 13, 2017.

         BACKGROUND

         The Government's Verified Complaint alleges that Fort Belknap Tribal Law Enforcement Officer Lex Helgeson initiated a traffic stop of a 1979 Cadillac on July 29, 2016, on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Officer Helgeson stopped the Cadillac for speeding. The Cadillac had a North Dakota temporary license plate. The Cadillac was occupied by four individuals. Torrell Camper was the driver. Torrell had a suspended Washington State driver's license at the time of the traffic stop. Camper was a passenger. Camper is Torrell's mother.

         Blaine County Deputy Sheriff Chris Adair assisted on the traffic stop. Deputy Adair conducted a search of the Cadillac with Torrell's permission. Deputy Adair discovered a locked backpack and two locked duffel bags in the trunk of the Cadillac. The locked backpack contained a set of brass knuckles, $53, 743.00 in United States currency, and a pill bottle with one gram of marijuana. The cash was in small denominations. The cash was bundled in $1, 000 increments with rubber bands.

         One of the duffel bags contained four firearms and multiple cans of ammunition. The four firearms included a loaded AR-15 style semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle, a loaded .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, a .44 caliber pistol with two loaded speed loaders, and a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The second duffel bag contained two bottles of prescription liquid oxycodone that had been prescribed to a person who was not an occupant of the Cadillac.

         Deputy Adair found two cell phones in the Cadillac. Torrell consented to a search of the cell phones. The cell phones contained numerous text messages. Some of the text messages appeared to relate to illegal drug activity. The cell phones also contained photographs of Torrell with currency and a significant quantity of pharmaceutical tablets. The pharmaceutical tablets appeared to be 30 mg tablets of oxycodone.

         Deputy Adair found three bank deposit slips in the Cadillac. The deposit slips showed that Torrell had made three recent deposits of $5, 000 in various banks in Minot, North Dakota. Torrell had deposited cash in mixed denominations from $1 bills to $100 bills.

         The law enforcement officers interviewed Torrell. Torrell told the law enforcement officers that he made frequent trips from the Seattle, Washington area to Minot, North Dakota to visit friends. The friends included Curtis Wells. Further investigation by the law enforcement officers revealed that Mr. Wells was a known distributor of controlled substances in North Dakota. Mr. Wells has a 2014 conviction in North Dakota for the distribution of oxycodone and hydrocodone.

         DISCUSSION

         Camper argues that the Government's Verified Complaint should be dismissed because it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Camper argues that the Complaint is defective because it fails to show that the Government had “probable cause to institute [the] forfeiture action.” (Doc. 17 at 4). Camper argues that the Complaint lacks probable cause because it fails to show how the $53, 743.00 seized by the Government “related to an illegal drug transaction.” Id.

         The Government argues that Camper's motion to dismiss should be denied because it is not required to make a showing of probable cause at the pleading stage of a civil forfeiture action. The Government argues that its ...


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