United States District Court, D. Nebraska
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CHERYL R. ZWART, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
This matter is before the court for a final decision on the government’s complaint for forfeiture of $35, 890. The defendant currency was seized during a traffic stop conducted in Omaha, Nebraska on June 14, 2014. Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Dave Wintle initiated the traffic stop. Eliyah Bell was driving the stopped vehicle; Derrick Anderson was a passenger. The vehicle, a Hyundai Sonata, had been rented by Derrick Anderson’s fiancé, Giacoma Telich, who was not in the vehicle at the time of the stop.
The government claims the seized currency is proceeds from, or was being used in furtherance of, illegal drug trafficking activity. Claimant Terry Anderson is the brother of passenger Derrick Anderson. Terry Anderson claims he is an innocent owner of the seized money, having saved money since the ‘90s, and supplementing that savings with a $10, 000 workers compensation settlement received from a past employer and a $10, 000 gift received from Zenith Anderson, his sister.
For the reasons discussed below, the court finds the defendant currency was derived from illegal drug activity, Claimant Terry Anderson is not the innocent owner of that money, and the money will be forfeited to the United States.
1.Government’s Trial Evidence.
On June 14, 2014, Deputy Wintle, accompanied by his canine partner, Kubo, was patrolling the traffic on Interstate 80 in Omaha, Nebraska. At approximately 10:00 a.m., he observed a westbound Hyundai Sonata change lanes from the inside left lane to the middle lane of the interstate, swerving into the far right lane as he did so. The driver did not signal the lane change. Deputy Wintle initiated a traffic stop by activating his overhead lights. The vehicle promptly pulled over and stopped. See Ex. 1 (in-car camera video recording).
Deputy Wintle approached the front passenger side of the vehicle and asked for vehicle information and Bell’s driver’s license. Bell produced an Ohio identification card, but he did not have a driver’s license, and he could not produce the vehicle rental agreement.
Bell was seated in Wintle’s patrol vehicle. Deputy Wintle returned to the rental vehicle and spoke with Derrick Anderson. He then returned to the patrol vehicle, advised Bell of the reason for the stop, and contacted dispatch to gather vehicle information, and any criminal history and pending warrant information on both Bell and Derrick Anderson. While waiting for information from dispatch and completing a warning ticket, Deputy Wintle asked Bell about the origin, purpose, and destination of his trip. Bell stated he was heading for vacation, but did not know the destination; perhaps Las Vegas. During the traffic stop, Bell stated he had been on the road for “a couple of hours, ” (Ex. 1, at 10:14:20-27), but based on the trial testimony, Bell and Derrick Anderson had left Cincinnati, Ohio that morning. Cincinnati is over 700 miles from Omaha, Nebraska.
Dispatch contacted Deputy Wintle and stated Bell’s driver’s license was suspended and that Bell appeared to be the subject of a pending arrest warrant. But dispatch needed to contact Florida to confirm that the warrant was still valid and determine whether Florida was willing to extradite Bell.
While waiting for this additional information, Deputy Wintle asked Bell if he possessed any weapons, drugs, or substantial amounts of cash. Bell answered “No.” Based on Bell’s inability to state his own vacation destination, along with the initial report of a potential pending warrant, Deputy Wintle suspected Bell may be engaged in illegal activity. He asked for permission to search the vehicle. Bell responded that the officer needed to ask Derrick Anderson for consent.
Deputy Wintle approached the passenger side of the stopped vehicle and spoke to Derrick Anderson. Derrick Anderson explained his fiancé had rented the vehicle, but he could not produce the rental agreement. In response to the officer’s questions, Derrick Anderson stated he and Bell were en route to Los Angeles and planned to spend a couple of days there before returning home. Deputy Wintle asked for consent to search the vehicle, but Derrick Anderson refused.
Approximately 20 minutes after initiating the traffic stop, and while still awaiting further information from dispatch regarding the validity of the reported arrest warrant, Deputy Wintle removed Kubo from his patrol vehicle to perform a canine sniff of the stopped vehicle.
Deputy Wintle and Kubo were trained as a canine team in 2006. That training included teaching Kubo to detect, alert, and indicate to the odor of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroine, including detection of these odors on currency. Kubo was not trained to respond to the odor of currency alone. In July of 2006, Deputy Wintle and Kubo became a certified drug-detection canine team. They were re-certified annually and between those annual re-certifications, they continued to train. In addition to re-certification testing, approximately once a year, Kubo was further tested to see if he would respond to the odor of circulated currency ...