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United States v. $25

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$25, 000 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, Defendant.

          JORDAN MILOWE ANGER OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY Attorney for Plaintiff United States of America.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case is a forfeiture in rem action for $25, 000 in United States currency. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture. There has been no response to this motion. For the reasons expressed herein, the Plaintiff's requests will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         This Court takes its facts from Plaintiff's Verified Complaint (the “Complaint”) and the Declaration of Jordan Anger, counsel for Plaintiff (the “Declaration”). The facts underlying this case arose in May 2018. On May 16, 2018, a confidential source (“CS-1”) informed the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) that CS-1 received a phone call on May 12, 2018 from an individual (“Individual-1”) who wished to purchase one kilogram of cocaine. CS-1 told Individual-1 the price was $27, 000 per kilogram. On May 17, 2018, Individual-1 told CS-1 that he wished to meet later that day to purchase the cocaine.

         Law enforcement arranged for another confidential source (“CS-2”) to act as CS-1's representative. CS-2 agreed to meet with Individual-1 at the Premium Outlets in Blackwood, New Jersey. That same day, law enforcement recorded CS-2 meeting with Pedro Aybar and Christian Meran-Valdez in the Premium Outlets parking lot.

         Aybar and Meran-Valdez were observed in a blue, 2003 Acura MDX; Aybar drove, Meran-Valdez was a passenger. When the two arrived at the Premium Outlets, Meran-Valdez got out of the car, approached CS-2 - who was standing beside a vending machine, and told CS-2 he had the “tickets.” Plaintiff asserts this was code for money. CS-2 asked to see the “tickets” before he transferred the cocaine. Meran-Valdez and CS-2 went to the Acura, CS-2 got in the backseat, and Meran-Valdez introduced CS-2 to Aybar.

         Aybar told CS-2 that he and Meran-Valdez had the money. On the rear passenger seat floor, CS-2 found a red-and-white bag containing $25, 000 in U.S. currency in stacks, wrapped in rubber-bands. CS-2 said the price was $27, 000, but Aybar stated $25, 000 was the agreed upon price. CS-2 directed Aybar and Meran-Valdez to meet him at a different location to retrieve the cocaine. The two attempted to follow CS-2, but took an illegal u-turn and were pulled over by local law enforcement.

         Aybar and Meran-Valdez were questioned and gave conflicting accounts about why they had traveled to the Premium Outlets from New York City. Thereafter, Aybar gave local law enforcement verbal and written consent to search the Acura. They found the $25, 000 in U.S. Currency - the defendant property - in a hidden compartment in the driver's side rear passenger door and found red-and-white gift bags matching the one described by CS-2.

         Both Meran-Valdez and Aybar initially disclaimed ownership of the defendant property. It was seized pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), under the theory that the money was intended for use in a controlled substance transaction. The DEA initiated administrative forfeiture proceeding against the instant defendant in rem and Aybar filed a claim of ownership on July 9, 2018. Aybar stated that he was the owner of the property.

         Plaintiff brought the instant action on September 25, 2018. There is one claim, that of forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). Notice was published on October 18, 2018 as directed by law and remained on the official government site until November 16, 2018. The Complaint and a Notice of Complaint was sent to Aybar's counsel, Mitchell C. Elman, on October 10, 2018 by Federal Express. It arrived on October 11, 2018. A warrant was returned executed for forfeiture on November 1, 2018. On December 21, 2018, Plaintiff requested default, the Clerk entered default, and Plaintiff filed the instant motion for default judgment.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court has federal question jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1345.

         B. ...


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