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ACLU lawyer to talk asset forfeiture and more in Carbondale

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By Lynn Burton
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The law enforcement action is called “asset forfeiture.” Police, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrol troopers confiscate money, vehicles and other assets following what is often a routine traffic stop or call to a private residences or business. The officers seize assets such as cash if they suspect a crime is or was involved prior to their confiscation. Here are some asset forfeiture examples, from the Daily Caller website:

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• After Tan Nguyen was pulled over for driving three miles above the speed limit, he had $50,000 confiscated by a Nevada (sheriff’s) deputy. According to Nguyen, that money was casino winnings. As reported in Forbes magazine, Nguyen was not arrested, charged with a crime or given a traffic citation. He filed a lawsuit in federal court, and was ultimately reimbursed for the cash that was taken from him, and $10,000 to cover attorney’s fees.”

• The Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit’s monthly Funk Night party got weird in May of 2008. The all-night dance party was raging when police burst in around 2 a.m., the Metro Times reported. Officers alleged the establishment did not have a license. They passed out loitering tickets and impounded 40 vehicles just because they were driven to the party. They all got their cars back … except for the one guy who had his car stolen from the impound lot. Also, they each paid a $900 impound fee.”

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• A New Jersey man’s stash of cash was taken by an officer when he traveled through Monterey, Tenn. George Reby had $22,000 cash in his car when he was stopped by a police officer. TV News Channel 5 reported the officer took the money because he suspected it was drug money. However, the man said he was going to use the money to buy a car, for which he had active bids on Ebay, something he was able to prove on his computer.

• Alda Gentile was not arrested. She was not charged with a crime. Yet police in Georgia seized $11,530 in cash that Gentile said she had in a car for a house-hunting trip in Florida. Police confiscated the money after stopping the car, driven by her son, for speeding. They searched for drugs but found nothing. Her case has become a rallying cry for libertarian, conservative and other groups seeking to change laws in Georgia that allow law enforcement to seize property and cash from people who have not been convicted of crimes, a process known as civil forfeiture. Lawmakers in at least four states have proposed changing similar laws, with varying levels of intensity and success. “I never even thought it was anything illegal about bringing cash,” said Gentile, who got the money back after days of frantic phone calls. “They made me feel like a criminal.” Gentile said she was repeatedly asked whether she or her son had drugs — none were found. Officers used a dog to search her car, but they did not report finding anything or file criminal charges. Records show that a trooper said he seized the cash on the advice of an agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. State Patrol Maj. Eddie Grier said officers took the cash because they were suspicious that Gentile could be trafficking drugs. Grier said troopers told him that a police dog indicated it smelled narcotics on the cash, though this was not mentioned in the initial police report. Gentile denied any involvement in drug trade and said she believes police tried coaxing the dog into responding. Grier ultimately returned the money to Gentile. State and federal prosecutors were not interested in seizing it. Grier said most people involved in drug trafficking would abandon illicit money rather than risk additional scrutiny trying to get it back. “I’ll be honest with you — I just sort of believed her,” Grier said.

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American Civil Liberties Director in Colorado Nathan Woodliff-Stanley will discuss asset forfeiture issues and more at the Carbondale Branch Library from 7-8:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8. Stanley’s talk and Q&A is co-presented by the Mt. Sopris Historical Society, with the help of Jim Calaway, who will serve as moderator for the night.

The post-Trump election has sent a large ripple through Colorado’s electorate. Stanley told The Sopris Sun the Colorado ACLU’s membership has increased from 7,000 before the election to 28,000 at this date. “We’re not celebrating what has happened, but …. “ with the increase of membership the ACLU has hired a fourth attorney for its staff.

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Published in The Sopris Sun on April 6, 2017.