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UNITED STATES v. $ 87

December 14, 1989

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$ 87,375 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERRY

 FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

 Plaintiff United States has brought this case under 21 U.S.C. ┬ž 881 against the defendant property, $ 87,375 in United States Currency. The United States has alleged that the defendant property is traceable in some way to a transaction involving controlled substances in violation of Title 21 of the U.S. Code. The claimants to the defendant property are citizens of Colombia, Juan Ricardo Camacho and Maria Clara Echavarria.

 A bench trial was heard in this court on May 15, 1989, and the court now issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 I. FINDINGS OF FACT

 On February 12, 1987, at approximately 8:00 p.m., New Jersey State Trooper John Tomasello stopped a white 1987 Chevrolet with Florida license plates going westbound on U.S. Route 40 in Carney's Point, Salem County, New Jersey. Trooper Tomasello stopped the car after determining that it had been travelling 63 miles per hour in a 50 miles per hour zone. The driver of the car was the claimant, Juan Ricardo Camacho, a native of Colombia who was then residing in Miami, Florida. Mr. Camacho produced a valid Florida driver's license but failed to produce a rental agreement for the car which he was driving at the time of the stop. He did produce a rental agreement but it pertained to a Toyota.

 Upon his search of the car, Trooper Tomasello observed a pillow case protruding out of the suitcase on the back seat. The trooper directed his flashlight on the pillow case and observed bundles of United States currency through the semi-opaque fabric. An inspection of the pillow case revealed a quantity of money consisting of small denomination bills of varying ages and conditions which were secured in bundles by rubber bands. At that point, Trooper Tomasello advised Mr. Camacho of his Miranda rights and then questioned Mr. Camacho about the currency.

 Mr. Camacho told the trooper that the currency belonged to his brother and was going to be used to purchase an apartment in Florida. Mr. Camacho said that he had obtained the currency at an airport in New York from a person he had never met before. Mr. Camacho said that this person walked with him to his car, deposited the money in the car's trunk and left.

 After these disclosures by the claimant, Trooper Tomasello handcuffed Mr. Camacho and transported him to the New Jersey State Police barracks in Woodstown, New Jersey for further questioning. Arrangements were made to have Mr. Camacho's car brought to the Woodstown barracks. Subsequently, the New Jersey State Police contacted the United States Customs Service and requested its assistance with the investigation. Customs Special Agents Richard Stingle, Julio Velez and Joseph Wayno, and Canine Enforcement Officer Ronald Eichmann, along with his narcotics detector dog, Coco, responded to the State Police's request.

 Prior to this investigation in February 1987, Officer Eichmann had worked with Coco for approximately seven years. Coco completed the narcotics detection training program for canines at the Custom Service's facility in Front Royal, Virginia in 1980. Coco also demonstrated her proficiency in narcotics detection in annual recertification exercises between 1980 and 1987.

 Officer Eichmann was asked to have Coco examine the trooper's locker room at the Woodstown barracks for the presence or odor of a controlled substance. Officer Eichmann first took Coco on a "control run" or a "sterile run" of the locker room by leading her around the perimeter and past the lockers and chests of drawers. On the "control run," Coco did not alert to anything. Officer Eichmann and Coco then left the locker room, and the pillowcase with the currency which was found in Mr. Camacho's car was hidden in a locker room chest of drawers. Upon her return to the locker room, Coco alerted almost instantly to the presence or odor of a controlled substance in the chest of drawers containing the pillowcase and currency. A similar search was conducted in Mr. Camacho's car and Coco alerted to the presence or odor of a controlled substance on the back seat, where the suitcase had been.

 After these searches, the bundles of currency were opened and the money counted. There were 7,635 bills in $ 1, $ 5, $ 10 and $ 20 denominations totalling $ 87,375.00. A master list setting forth the serial numbers and denominations of the bills in each of the seventy-seven bundles was prepared under the supervision of Officer Eichmann. In the experience of the Customs agents assigned to the investigation, the amount, denominations, condition and means of packaging of the currency were consistent with currency typically used in connection with narcotics trafficking.

 Mr. Camacho later recanted his statements regarding the sale of the apartment building and conceded that he had assumed that the currency represented the proceeds from illegal narcotics trafficking. Mr. Camacho stated that he had been in Colombia for three days during the week immediately prior to the stop by Trooper Tomasello.

 Special Agent Velez called Mr. Echavarria in Bogota, Colombia at a telephone number which Mr. Camacho had provided. Agent Velez initially talked to the female who answered the phone, and then he talked to Mr. Echavarria. Mr. Echavarria stated that he had no knowledge of the currency or of Mr. Camacho's trip to New York. Mr. Echavarria stated that he had talked to Mr. Camacho two days earlier and ...


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