DEA Returns $87,000 It Helped Nevada Law Enforcement Steal From An Ex-Marine

from the 'everything-checks-out,'-they-said-while-they-helped-themselves-to-his-m dept

Another bullshit forfeiture has attracted national press attention. This one has some added bonuses, like local cops stating on (body cam) that the easiest way to get their hands on the seized money would be to ask the feds to come in.

It’s the usual stuff: a pretextual stop, a bunch of questions unrelated to the alleged violation, and the theft of a person’s money based on nothing more than an officer’s speculation about its origin. (alternate link)

The Nevada trooper first told Stephen Lara the highway patrol was educating drivers “about violations they may not realize they’re committing,” and that he’d been pulled over for following a tanker truck too closely. Eventually the trooper admitted having an ulterior purpose: stopping the smuggling of illegal drugs, weapons and currency as they crossed the state.

Lara — a former Marine who says he was on his way to visit his daughters in Northern California — insisted he was doing none of those things, though he readily admitted he had “a lot” of cash in his car. As he stood on the side of the road, police searched the vehicle, pulling nearly $87,000 in a zip-top bag from Lara’s trunk and insisting a drug-sniffing dog had detected something on the cash.

The drug-sniffing dog was wrong, apparently. Or even if it was right, it was detecting something present on almost all cash in circulation: drug residue. No actual drugs were found in Lara’s car.

What was found was $87,000 in cash, but $87,000 supported by a stack of receipts from ATMs, showing Lara had pulled this cash from his own accounts. That lined up with Lara’s story, which the Highway Patrol didn’t even find unbelievable. It also lines up with comments from someone unlikely to burnish the reputation of someone who is (allegedly) $18,000 behind on child support payments. Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post tracked down Lara’s ex-wife, Kimberly Olson, who confirmed his predilection for having lots of cash on hand.

Olsen said she thought Lara might have kept his money out of the bank in part so he would not have to turn it over in child support. But she noted that even when they were married years ago, Lara “just liked to have his cash” and made frequent withdrawals.

She said Lara did not seem to spend an inordinately high amount but liked to “show off” the cash itself, and spend it on his kids. She said she did not think he was a drug trafficker.

Of course, the trooper who pulled Lara over had none of this information. But he did have a stack of ATM receipts that appeared to indicate the source of the funds. Ultimately, none of that mattered. The Highway Patrol wanted the money, so they found a way to get it. Despite one trooper stating he thought Lara was legit, the law enforcement agency sought outside help to make it easier to retain at least a portion of the $87,000.

Video of the stop, recorded on multiple body cameras, shows a trooper and Lara having a genial conversation, with Lara agreeing to be searched. The troopers pull the cash from his trunk and remark that the bills seem to be new. Lara points them to the receipts, which he says prove the money is his.

“As odd as it is, everything lines up,” a trooper says at one point.

In the video, Lara tells the troopers he does not trust banks. At one point, a sergeant on the scene calls someone — apparently a DEA agent — to confirm the forfeiture process.

“It’s too easy to do an adoption,” the sergeant says.

It is too easy. That’s one thing that’s been obvious for years. States have belatedly realized a lot of forfeiture amounts to little more than state-ordained armed robbery. But restrictions deployed at state level can almost always be bypassed by asking the feds to step in. And forfeiture adoption policies require the federal government to kick back a certain percentage of the take to the locals who initiated the seizure.

So, that’s how things went for Lara. Nevada troopers took his cash, called in the DEA, and the DEA initiated the forfeiture. That happened back in February of this year. Lara challenged the seizure. Then he went public with his accusations. And that appears to be what has triggered a belated change of heart by the DEA, six months after it took control of Lara’s money.

It was only after Lara got a lawyer, sued and talked with The Washington Post about his ordeal that the government said it would return his money.

But that’s not the end of it for the law enforcement agencies involved in this. Lara may be getting his money back but he’s not abandoning his litigation. He’s trying to secure a ruling blocking the Nevada Highway Patrol from utilizing the federal adoption option to get a cut of cash it might have trouble securing on its own.

Some of the damage has been undone. But let’s not forget the government kept Lara’s money for six months for no other reason than it was “too easy to do.” That’s unacceptable.

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Comments on “DEA Returns $87,000 It Helped Nevada Law Enforcement Steal From An Ex-Marine”

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32 Comments
Anonymoussays:

For Mz's prior piece which is as usual BLOCKED:

Your view of 1A is empowering corporate censorship:

BUT you say okay if Amazon bans on own initiative!

"And, I think it’s fairly important to state that these platforms have their own First Amendment rights, which allow them to deny service to anyone."

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170825/01300738081/nazis-internet-policing-content-free-speech.shtml

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

First we let them pretend they didn’t know we had a right to not be sexually abused or killed…
Now we let them pretend property must be guilty with none of that silly evidence stuff & allow them to play hide the ball for months hoping the citizen will just fsck off.

Perhaps someone could answer how and when we decided to model police enforcement on how the mob works.

No one in the gang will testify against another, if you rat someone out the gang will turn on you, if you appeal to a higher power the gang will take retribution on you and yours, if a member wants to have sex with you they will get it if you want them to or not.

There is nothing showing asset forfeiture is anything but legal robbery of citizens based on hunches and a burning desire to fill the coffers.

Just because we’ve done something for a while is no reason to keep doing it when the evidence shows that its not doing what was promised. Do not throw more money at it, do not try to fix the horrible broken with another abuseable law, put an end to it & admit it was a very bad idea.

That One Guysays:

They had bank receipts at the site of the stop to prove where the money came from and that it was theirs and it was not only still stolen but it took them six months, getting a lawyer and going public before they got their stolen money back.

As if it wasn’t already clear enough what a legal abomination asset forfeiture is and how badly it’s warped(or more likely merely allowed for a good number) law enforcement into just another gang of criminals stealing anything that isn’t nailed down or on fire.

Anonymoussays:

Re: For Mz's prior piece which is as usual BLOCKED:

Web-sites, offered freely by permitted entitities are mere hosts, and the "site" as such is NOT property, it’s merely magnetic domains on a hard drive somewhere, and transmitted on demand from presumably a "natural" person. A corporation therefore controls not just the user, but potentially millions of individuals who might want to see the data. YOU, not me, must justify that control.

There is no more association between a host and ordinary user than with an automobile brand used as getaway car for bank robbery. It’s a ridiculously feeble assertion on which to base such sweeping power.

Your corporatist assertions are intended not to serve The Public but to gain political / econnomic power for a few.

Anonymoussays:

Re: For Mz's prior piece which is as usual BLOCKED:


By number of clicks, trying to get in on this apparently open plain HTML input box, I’m the most prolific commentor here!

AGAIN, AS USUAL, all I get with, exactly the above text, after DOZENS of clicks is this LIE:

Free Speech

Free Speech

Comment Held for Moderation…

Thanks for your comment.
It will be reviewed by our staff before it is posted.

Back to the story.


But comments NEVER come out of that LYING, probably non-existent "review". Indeed, Mz claims he doesn’t have "staff" that "moderates", so to even put that text out is beyond lying: it’s making up a fiction that he’s denied elsewhere, and then contradicting his own lies!

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: For Mz's prior piece which is as usual BLOCKED:

This is a fundamental contradiction in your notions. You assert that "private" corporations — which can exist in The Public’s marketplaces only after getting permission from The Public’s servants in gov’t, and having promised to serve The Public and obey our many Rules — are actually thereby empowered to arbitrarily and totally control The Public’s speech through ordinary web-sites.

No one has agreed to de facto tyranny by corporatized fictions.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: For Mz's prior piece which is as usual BLOCKED:

"Web-sites, offered freely by permitted entitities are mere hosts, and the "site" as such is NOT property, it’s merely magnetic domains on a hard drive somewhere…"

A hard drive which is owned by someone and leased on an "at-need" basis; Thus, property.

You must be living in a really weird sort of world where physical property does not exist but imaginary property and ideas are all owned by someone.

I’m sad to have to inform you yet again that reality doesn’t care about the deranged vision you hold so dear in your pipe dreams.

TKnarrsays:

Re:

I suspect what’ll happen in this case is the Feds will return the money, all of it, and then ask for his case to be dismissed as moot because there’s no damages he can claim. What I’d like to see is one of these cases where the victim did have damages he could claim even after the return of his money, eg. the money was to pay for something he’d put a deposit down on and he’d lost the deposit because of being unable to make payment after his money was confiscated. Ideally the item would also be something that can’t readily be replaced, like a collectible car or original artwork, so that even if the Feds offer to cover the lost deposit on top of returning his money he could still show damages that resulted solely from the confiscation and nothing else.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

there’s no damages he can claim

Attorney’s fees should be the bare minimum. If he had to use credit because this cash wasn’t available and paid interest because of it I can see that being something for consideration. The other question is the interest he could’ve made on the money had he put it in a bank because of this whole shitshow.

Paul Bsays:

Re: Re: Re:

Does the court not allow the argument that since the case violated the due process and unreasonable search and seizure that he’s owed compensation for having to go through an unreasonable process that the government dragged on well past any reasonable level?

That feels like a reasonable argument for going after compensation but it feels like you have to raise fairly extensive arguments that will again be fought all the way to the supreme court.

That said, The case where the guys car was taken even though it’s value exceeded any fine should already give some basis for this.

TKnarrsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Does the court not allow the argument that since the case violated the due process and unreasonable search and seizure that he’s owed compensation for having to go through an unreasonable process that the government dragged on well past any reasonable level?

Unfortunately not in general, only where the relevant law specifically allows it. There’s a lot of that in the American judicial system, eg. where if you reject a settlement and go on to win but the award’s less than the settlement you have to pay the loser’s costs and fees even though you prevailed. The whole system has a reek of "This is a court of law, not a court of justice.".

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