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United States v. Sixty-Three Thousand, Five Hundred and Seventy-Five Dollars in U.S. Currency

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMEIRCA, Plaintiff,
v.
SIXTY-THREE THOUSAND, FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS IN U.S. CURRENCY Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JEAN C. HAMILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Answers to Special Interrogatories (ECF No. 12). The matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff brings a civil action in rem seeking forfeiture of all right, title, and interest in the defendant property pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C. §§ 981(a)(1)(A), (C).[2] On April 2, 2018, Juana Vasquez-Hernandez (“Hernandez”), Maria Mendoza-Vasquez (“Mendoza”) and Rodrigo Ortiz-Cruz (“Ortiz”) were traveling in a gray Chevrolet Suburban on Interstate 70 West within the Eastern District of Missouri. Hernandez was driving the vehicle. The Government alleges that law enforcement officers conducted a valid traffic stop of the Chevrolet Suburban which was trailering another vehicle on a car dolly, near the 205-mile marker in Foristell, Missouri. The Government states that Officers approached the Suburban and made contact with Claimant Hernandez who was driving and obtained identification from Mendoza and Cruz.

         The Government states that Claimant Hernandez agreed to exit the Chevrolet Suburban and accompany an officer in a patrol vehicle. While in the patrol vehicle, Claimant Hernandez told officers that she did not have a driver's license because she is not a citizen United States. Hernandez stated that she had been in Wisconsin visiting family for the preceding fifteen days, that she owned the Chevrolet Suburban, that she had purchased the vehicle in tow in Wisconsin for $4000.00, and that she was taking the vehicle back to California. The Government alleges that Hernandez stated that she picked grapes in California when she was asked if she was employed.

         Following the stop, a trained drug detection canine was deployed for a free air sniff of the Chevrolet Suburban. The canine gave an affirmative response to the presence of controlled substances near the rear cargo area of the Suburban. Hernandez denied that she possessed any narcotics or large amounts of currency inside the vehicle. Officers opened the cargo door of the Chevrolet Suburban and observed it to be packed with multiple suitcases and bags. The search of the Chevrolet Suburban uncovered a black bag containing a silver package of currency. The currency was determined to be $63, 575.00.

         When interviewed Claimant Hernandez stated that the Defendant Property was from her casino winnings and given to her by her deceased husband. Confusingly, the Government also states that Claimant Hernandez signed a disclaimer form stating that she did not have interest in the defendant property. Mendoza also signed the disclaimer form. Ortiz claimed he had no notice of the defendant property. The Defendant Property was seized by law enforcement.

         On December 21, 2018, the Government filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture as to sixty-three thousand, five hundred and seventy-five dollars in U.S. currency ($63, 575.00) (ECF No. 1). On February 19, 2019, Claimant Hernandez filed a claim to the Defendant Property. (ECF No. 6). In her claim, the Claimant contends that the defendant property “was earned income from lawful employment and inheritance from Claimant's husband.” Id. On March 14, 2019, the Government mailed Special Interrogatories to the Claimant pursuant to Rule G(6) of the Supplemental Rules to ascertain whether the Claimant had factual or legal basis to assert a claim in its civil proceeding. On April 5, 2019, Claimant's counsel requested an extension of time to submit answers to the Special Interrogatories. On April 21, 2019, Claimant submitted her answers. On April 23, 2019, The Government notified claimant counsel by email that the Answers were not satisfactory as to Special Interrogatory 2, 5, 6, 12 and 16.

         DISCUSSION

         Under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), “[a]ll moneys … furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance [and] all proceeds traceable to such an exchange” are subject to civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture proceedings are governed by 18 U.S.C. § 983 and in Admiralty and Maritime Supplemental Rule G. Under 18 U.S.C. § 983(1), where the government executes a seizure, it must provide notice to any interested parties. Any person claiming an interest in the seized property may file a claim. Id. § 983(2). Where a claim has been filed, the government must commence a civil action in rem by filing a complaint for forfeiture in an appropriate court. Id. §983(3)(A). Any person claiming an interest in the property may then contest the forfeiture by filing a claim in the court where the civil action is pending. Id. § 983(4).

         In the instant case, Claimant filed a claim for the forfeited property. The Government served Special Interrogatories on the Claimant. The Claimant replied to some of the Special Interrogatories and objected to others. The Government now files a Motion to Compel regarding certain Special Interrogatories. The Interrogatories in question are as follows:

Special Interrogatory 2
This Interrogatory asks for employment information from January 1, 2015 to the present and ...

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