United States v. Funds in the Amount of $239,400, No. 14-3451 (7th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Valdes was traveling by train. During a layover, DEA agents approached Valdes because he fit their profile of a drug courier, searched Valdes’s luggage, and found bundles of cash totaling $239,400. Each bundle was covered with several layers of packaging. Valdes stated that the money was his and that he was traveling to purchase computers for his computer recycling business. No drugs were found in his luggage. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the bag containing the currency. The agents did not arrest Valdes. They told him that he was free to go but seized the currency. The government filed a civil forfeiture complaint under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(6) alleging that the currency was furnished or intended to be furnished for a controlled substance. Valdes filed a claim, asserting an ownership. His wife also filed a claim, based on a community property and innocent ownership interest. After they filed their claims, but before they answered the complaint, the government served special interrogatories. The government moved to strike the claims and answers, arguing that the claimants failed to respond to interrogatories, so that they lacked standing. The district court agreed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. By blending standing and the merits, the court nullified Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 protections that put the burden on the government to prove by a preponderance of evidence that property is forfeitable, 18 U.S.C. 983(c).