Judge Hands Back $92,000 Taken From Musician By Cops For Failing To Buckle His Seatbelt

from the more-of-this-please dept

Another awful story of civil asset forfeiture abuse comes to us via German Lopez at Vox. But at least this one has a happy ending. The beginning, however, is anything but happy. Musician Phil Parhamovich made the mistake of driving in Wyoming without his seatbelt buckled. A click-it ticket in Wyoming usually runs about $25. In Parhamovich’s case, it cost him nearly $92,000.

Phil Parhamovich had been waiting for this moment for a long time. The 50-year-old had spent years restoring and selling houses, cars, and musical instruments, often clocking 12-hour workdays, to save up more than $91,000. And now it was all going to pay off: He would buy a music studio in Madison, Wisconsin, where Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins recorded songs — not just fulfilling a dream of owning a monument to grunge rock, but also giving him a space to work on his own career as a musician.

Then came the police stop this past March. By the time it was over, police in Wyoming would take all of Parhamovich’s money — the full $91,800. Parhamovich, who has no criminal record, was not accused of or charged with a serious crime; he only got a $25 ticket for improperly wearing his seat belt and a warning for “lane use.”

But Wyoming law enforcement officers found and eventually seized the $91,800 in cash, as it was hidden in a speaker cabinet — by getting Parhamovich, under what he claims was duress, to sign away his interest in the money through a waiver.

With all apologies to Parhamovich — who got screwed by the civil asset forfeiture system — Wyoming law enforcement couldn’t have asked for a better mark to come passing through their state. Parhamovich disavowed ownership of the money and signed a waiver stating the same thing. That’s a perfect storm of complicity.

But while we’re still being fair, most Americans aren’t aware law enforcement officers regularly engage in pretextual traffic stops for the sole purpose of warrantless searches and seizures. According to the musician, the cops made it sound like cash was just another form of illegal contraband.

At one point, the officer asked Parhamovich if he had a long list of items in his car — specific drugs, a weapon, a large amount of cash, and so on. With the way the question was phrased, Parhamovich said he was worried that answering “yes” would make things worse, since it could wrongfully imply he had illegal drugs in his car. He also became concerned, since he was questioned about cash and illegal drugs at the same time, that it was potentially against the law to carry so much cash at once. (It is not.)

Cops looking to directly profit from traffic stops rely on citizens being unfamiliar with local laws and their legal rights. (Perversely, they rely on not knowing the law when being sued for violating rights.) Hence the highway patrol tendency to pull over out-of-state drivers. The officer here went poaching. He even had a property waiver form written up and ready to go — something that doesn’t seem like it should be a part of day-to-day traffic law enforcement.

In the end, law enforcement took Parhamovich’s $91,800 and wrote him a $25 ticket. Parhamovich — with the assistance of the Institute for Justice took the state to court to get his money back. And Parhamovich has won, somewhat unexpectedly.

A Wyoming judge ordered the state Friday to return nearly $92,000 seized from a musician during a traffic stop that resulted in no criminal charges or even an arrest, according to the man’s attorney.

Attorney Dan Alban said Judge Peter Arnold ordered the state on Friday to return the full amount to Phil Parhamovich, an unexpected move in a case that began more than eight months ago. The First Judicial District Court in Wyoming confirmed the judge’s order.

The ruling hasn’t been made available so it’s unclear what the legal rationale for the release was — other than possibly “this is bullshit.” With a signed waiver and the disavowal of ownership, it should have been open and shut. Perhaps the state could find nothing to connect the money to illegal activity or screwed up somewhere procedurally. All that really matters to the victim of Wyoming’s thieving cops is his money will be returned to him.

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Comments on “Judge Hands Back $92,000 Taken From Musician By Cops For Failing To Buckle His Seatbelt”

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yaaaaaa fishy

anyone but an actor or musician and its GO FUCK YOURSELF

all these pigs and sicko actors/muscians are doing is bringing the end to themselves sooner

oh and have ya seen jennifer lawrence on tv admit to assaulting some guy and damaging his property act and feel like it was a joke?

like others are saying hope the person gets a lawyer and takes her to cleaners..just more proof they don’t deserve the money/copyright terms they deserve add to this the game industry and its obsession with adding gambling and cards to all the video games…..

what a wonder time to be alive and have these people be YOUR role models …..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I am tempted to believe that as well but in the end… the officers are NOT the problem, even though they are not good people either.

They are punks and thugs because their bosses are punks and thugs, which means the bosses are hiding behind their punks and thugs. Harming them is just like shooting the messenger.

If we want to put a stop to it, it has to start at the top, not the bottom.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nice weaselly "probable cause"

More like: “nice parallel construction”. If this money was previously in an account with any FDIC insured bank, the withdrawal would have been flagged by the FBI as soon as it was made. That was part of the “Patriot Act” bullshit that came after 9/11.

It is probable that the cops in question knew what was in the car before they pulled him over. Either because of automated surveillance, or possibly by detection systems used in combination with RF reflectivity in the cash. (not sure about the RF bit. I’ve heard rumors, but I’ve never seen any scientifically demonstrated evidence)

The paper dollar is not liquid in increments above a few grand. It is pretty much poor persons currency at this point. Real Americans carry debt. Only criminals carry money.

David says:

Re: Re: Nice weaselly "probable cause"

Whether or not the FBI knew about it is irrelevant. There is nothing illegal about possessing a large amount of cash.

The question was intentionally loaded, mixing legal as well as illegal items the person could have in their possession. Wisconsin is also an Open Carry state, so he could legally have been carrying a weapon. Answering “Yes” to legally carrying “loose change” or even the subjective “large” amount of cash or weapon doesn’t discriminate from the legal item or the illegal items of drugs, etc.

It’s clear from the article, that the list containing legal and illegal items made him nervous to answer, since “Yes” implied illegal activity and “No” would be a lie even though he had no illegal items.

OGquaker says:

Re: Re: Re:2 5th: 5th: 5th: 5th: 5th: never tried a whisky 5th

Having been handcuffed and locked in the back of a patrol car dozens of times, puling out the ‘fifth Amendment’ to the U.S. Constitution is dangerous for your health and/or future in California.
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese stated that the Federal 5th Amendment did not apply to the States, and actually READING it proves Edwin is still correct;

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury (except in war)”.

“infamous” is to destroy your standing in your community.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Parhamovich? Sounds like a Russian to me.

out_of_the_blue, ladies and gentlemen. He’d rather blame the victim just for a Masnick swipe than admit the police messed up. Or admit to the massive man crush he has posting on a website he loathes with every fiber of his being, and holds himself up in twisted narcissism.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: These cops

Worse actually. A common thief you’re allowed to defend yourself against if they try to rob you, and they generally don’t have numerous individuals in their workplace and the legal system willing to come forward and defend their actions as perfectly legal.

Both a cop and a common thief can rob you, but only one of them is expected to uphold the law and protect the public from having their stuff stolen, as well as having what amounts to very near total legal immunity if they decide to rob someone, and the knowledge that even if they get slapped down they won’t actually face any punishment for their actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why does this still exist?

it has reached SCOTUS in a couple of different forms.


The rulings in both cases were weak.
SCOTUS is notoriously weak on Constitutional protections, especially where your 4th, 5th, & 6th amendment protections are concerned.

A barking dog or a high failure rate field test is all that is necessary to destroy just about any protections you “think” you have and likely enough to scare you into entering a guilty plea when you are innocent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“they would demand to know what nation i had foolishly moved to.”

One they helped to create.

There is only one way to say this.
Humans simply cannot resist creating the very problems they are afraid of occurring right in the middle of the efforts they are taking to prevent them.

America has pretty much become exactly like the enemies it spends taxes and the blood of our fellow citizens to prevent in other nations.
America will, under the guise of protecting you, take every last liberty you have and you WILL cheer it on, until it is too late and you are shackled up before you can even properly dissent.

For every person that decries liberty of speech, I can show you someone they are willing to silence.
For every person that decries liberty of property, I can show you someone they are willing to take from.
For everyone that says I will protect the liberty of my fellow man, I can show you someone they are willing to take all liberty from!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“One they helped to create”

A bit presumptuous maybe?
It couldn’t be that the poster to which you replied, emigrated from elsewhere leaving their parents back in whatever country they are still in? If that were the case, how exactly are they responsible for any of the shit going on here?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Short sighted.

When people come to America, their politics live on through their children in one form or another.

Just because you can provide exceptions, means nothing.
By and large, most people are purely products of their environments and the impact is not small in the least.

Presumptive? I will give you that… but there is good reason to be so!

AJ says:

I read the story, and the cited sources, this is blatant thievery, and possibly extortion. The police officer had a waiver on him, this fact alone makes me highly suspect. Why the hell would he have something like that on him? A Police Officer armed with a legalized theft waiver could EASILY intimidate a suspect into giving up damn near anything with the treat of jail time hung over them.

He shoved it right at the guy in a highly intimidating, and authoritarian way and basically told him sign it or he’s going to be detained or possibly go to jail. Why isn’t the police officer being held on extortion charges?

Anonymous Coward says:

The article does not say what the “waiver” that he signed looked like.

If police were smart, they’d make the waiver look just like a traffic ticket, which everyone knows you must sign on demand if you don’t want to be arrested and hauled off to jail.

Answering ANY questions by authorities is a bad idea, because so often such “interviews” are a carefully crafted trap to try to lead someone into casually lying to them — which is a serious crime (and you don’t need to be under oath or even advised of the grave dangers of telling just a little white lie to a cop)

Now that the cops have been forced to give up their ill-gotten bounty, a suitable response would be to charge this guy with lying to an officer — a crime that former national security adviser Michael Flynn eventually became well aware is much worse than losing a years’ worth of income.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not illegal to lie to the police. It is illegal to lie to an FBI agent or any other agent of the federal government.

I’m embarrassed to say, I learned that on The Closer. The “bad guy” lied to Brenda, which was not illegal, but he also lied to Fritz, which was. Brenda was a cop, Fritz was an FBI agent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“It’s not illegal to lie to the police.”

5th Amendment or not, it’s illegal to refuse to answer police questions in some circumstances. (See Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada)

There are of course 50 states in the USA, each with its own specific sets of laws. As a general rule, it’s a bad idea to lie to police. A few seconds on Google found this:


Making a false or misleading statement to a public servant.

A person who knowingly makes a false or misleading material statement to a public servant is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. “Material statement” means a written or oral statement reasonably likely to be relied upon by a public servant in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Before anyone says that he shouldn’t have been carrying cash….

[T]he Oklahoma Highway Patrol has a device that also allows them to seize money in your bank account or on prepaid cards.

It’s called an ERAD, or Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machine, and state police began using 16 of them last month.

Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects you may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan any cards you have and seize the money.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

This incident is the one in which the victim won

How many cases are there in Wyoming in which money is seized and waivers are signed at badgepoint in which the victim is just fucked.

This isn’t a happy ending, it’s a slightly less tragic one considering he wasn’t compensated in any way for the ride, and these police are still out there robbing the people for billions.

musterion (profile) says:


You do not have to talk to the police. Enough of these incidents have happened.

You get stopped, and the officer asks you:”Do you know why I pulled you over?” If you say something like: “I must have been speeding.” You have just incriminated yourself. If you answer at all, you could say: “Officer, I have no idea why you pulled me over?” You have answered their question and have not incriminated your self.

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