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United States of America v. Currency

July 13, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CURRENCY, $16,010.00 IN UNITED STATES
DEFENDANT IN-REM.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, District Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court is the United States of America's (the "government") Motion for Entry of Default Judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 55(b), against Defendant in rem $16,010.00 ("Defendant currency"). Would-be known claimant Tyren B. Ali, Jr. a/k/a Tyreen B. Ali ("Ali") has not filed a claim within the time required by Rule G(5)(a) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(4)(A). For the reasons set forth below, the government's motion for Entry of Default Judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture is granted.*fn1

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On September 10, 2010, a West Deptford, New Jersey police officer observed a red 2000 Chrysler 300 ("Chrysler 300" or the "vehicle") with an expired registration about to travel south on Crown Point Road. Compl. at ¶ 7. The officer confirmed that the registration was expired, activated his vehicle's emergency lights, and followed the Chrysler 300 to implement a motor vehicle stop. Id. The Chrysler 300 pulled over, and the officer obtained the driver's license, insurance card, and expired registration. Id. at ¶¶ 7-8. The officer identified the driver as Ali, and observed that Ali's eyes were droopy and bloodshot. Id. at ¶ 8. The officer also smelled a potent odor of burnt marijuana emanating from inside Ali's vehicle. Id.

Upon the officer's request, Ali exited the vehicle. Id. at ¶ 9. The officer questioned him, and Ali admitted that he had been smoking marijuana earlier that night. Id. Ali also admitted that there was a marijuana cigarette in the vehicle's ashtray, but denied that the vehicle contained any other narcotics. Id. The officer then searched Ali's person and found $2720.00 total wrapped in bundles from his right front pocket and right rear pocket. Id. at ¶ 10. Upon questioning, Ali stated that he had obtained the money from recently selling a vehicle. Id. Another West Deptford police officer arrived and watched Ali while the first police officer searched the vehicle for the cause of the marijuana odor. Id. at ¶ 11. While searching the vehicle, the officer discovered a white package on the rear floor and several partially burnt hand-rolled cigarettes in the vehicle's ashtray. Id. At that time, however, the officer removed only the partially burnt hand-rolled cigarette believed to be marijuana from the vehicle's ashtray to secure it for evidence. Id. The officer then asked Ali to sign a consent to search form for the vehicle, but Ali refused, stating that he had already given the officer verbal consent to search the vehicle. Id. at ¶ 12.

The officer arrested Ali for possession of marijuana under 50 grams, had the Chrysler 300 impounded, and transported him to police headquarters for processing. Id. at ¶ 13. At the headquarters, police seized the $2700.00 found on Ali's person and gave him a receipt for the currency. Id. at ¶ 14. Ali was released on a state summons pending court at a later date and time. Id.

On September 14, 2010, a Superior Court Judge in Gloucester County, New Jersey issued a search warrant for the Chrysler 300. Id. at ¶ 15. Two West Deptford Township police officers executed the search of the Chrysler 300 and found a package wrapped in a white tee shirt on the rear floor of the vehicle. Id. at ¶ 16. Upon further inspection, the police found a black plastic bag under the tee shirt, which revealed another black plastic bag inside that contained $16,010.00 in U.S. currency, in five bundles secured by multi-colored rubber bands. Id. Police also discovered an open container of Hennessy Cognac, a plastic bag containing rubber bands, and a white, lined sheet of paper that cataloged days of the week and names with assorted numbers. Id. at ¶ 17. According to the government, this last item is "consistent with a drug ledger". Id.

The officers contacted a K-9 narcotic detection officer, and the K-9 detected the presence of narcotics on both the interior and the exterior of the vehicle, "specifically the front driver's seat area". Id. at ¶ 18. The officers continued to inspect the vehicle and discovered a 9 mm Stoeger, Model Cougar 8000, Serial Number T642908A018622, handgun behind the vehicle's air conditioner controls. Id. at ¶ 19. The handgun was loaded with fifteen rounds and had one round already in the chamber.*fn2 Id. The officers continued to search the vehicle and discovered a screwdriver that was presumably used to access the handgun behind the vehicle's dash area, a silver Nokia cellular telephone, and a New Jersey licence plate with the number ZRP42L registered to Lenn K Grant of Florence, New Jersey. Id. at ¶ 20.

On September 14, 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) commenced administrative forfeiture proceedings against the $16,010.00 that officers discovered in the Chrysler 300. Id. at ¶ 22. On September 22, 2010, the $2720.00 seized from Ali's person on September 10, 2010 was returned to the West Deptford Township Police Department for processing. Id. at ¶ 21.

On or about November 18, 2010, West Deptford police officers stopped Ali again, this time to execute an arrest warrant for possession of a stolen firearm from West Deptford on September 10, 2010. Id. at ¶ 23. Ali was driving a 2007 Chevy Impala registered in his name. Id. During that stop, officers seized $8,110.00 from Ali's person and from inside the Chevy Impala's trunk. Id. at 24. Ali stated that he had obtained the money from selling a 4-wheel All Terrain Vehicle (ATV), but could not produce or recall any information about the sale. Id.

Also on November 18, 2010, a search warrant was authorized for Ali's residence at 71 Cedarwood Court, West Deptford, New Jersey. Id. at ¶ 25. The renter of the residence, Michelle Lewis ("Lewis"), indicated that only she and Ali resided there. Id. Police found $30,000.00 from a safe in the master bedroom closet of the residence. Id. Upon questioning, Lewis stated that she did not own the money found in the safe and had never seen it before. Id. Lewis also stated that the safe belonged to Ali and that she did not know the combination to the safe. Id. Police also discovered Ali's driver's license, among other identifications, in a dresser drawer found in the master bedroom. Id.

On or about November 24, 2010, Ali's counsel filed papers contesting the forfeiture of the $16,010.00 previously seized from the Chrysler 300. Id. at ¶ 26.

According to the government, intelligence suggests that Ali is a "drug set" manager in Camden, New Jersey. Id. at ¶ 27. In addition, Ali has a criminal history that consists of eleven prior drug-related convictions that include four felony convictions for drug-related offenses. Id. at ¶ 28. Finally, Ali's only reported employer was B&B Poultry Company, Inc. in Norma, New Jersey. Id. at ¶ 29. B&B Poultry Company reported a $155.52 total quarterly wage for the fourth quarter of 2007 for Ali, and since that time no records have indicated a legitimate source of income for Ali. Id.

On February 18, 2011, the government filed a Verified Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey against the $16,010.00 in United States currency found in the Chrysler 300 that Ali drove. Decl. of Peter W. Gaeta with Ex. in Support of Default J. ¶ 2. On February 23, 2011, the Clerk of the Court issued a Warrant for the Arrest In Rem of the $16,010.00, and the Drug Enforcement Administration seized the Defendant currency, pursuant to the arrest warrant. Id. at ¶ 3. On or about February 25, 2011, the government sent, via certified mail, return receipt requested, copies of the Verified Complaint for Forfeiture, Warrant for ...


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