from the we're-in-the-right-say-people-who-folded-like-a-cheap-card-table dept
In February, cash transport business Empyreal Logistics sued the DOJ and a California sheriff for the lifting of nearly $1.2 million in cash from its drivers during two traffic stops. Empyreal, which notes that it follows all federal guidance for the transport of cash generated by legal marijuana sales, was hit twice in California, resulting in officers walking away with a whole lot of legal cash (and bringing in the feds to ensure they could take home up to 80% of the take). Other Empyreal drivers were pulled over in Kansas, during which $165,000 was seized by law enforcement and handed over to the DEA.
The sued sheriff, Shannon Dicus, claimed (without presenting evidence) that nearly all marijuana sold by dispensaries is grown illegally, thus justifying his decision to take cash that had been earned legally. He also claimed he and his deputies were doing the lord’s drug war work and “would prevail” in this lawsuit.
The U.S. Department of Justice agreed Wednesday to return all cash seized from an armored car company used by legal marijuana dispensaries during several traffic stops in California last year.
The California seizures occurred based on what authorities learned in Kansas during a May traffic stop of an Empyreal Logistics car. Conversations between state and federal law enforcement agencies stemming from this stop resulted in a series of events in which Kansas and California officers seized more than $1.2 million.
Note how quickly the DOJ folds when challenged during forfeitures. The DOJ — along with state and local law enforcement agencies — tend to play the odds, assuming that not everyone relieved of cash or property will sue. And if the dollar amount is low enough, it’s almost guaranteed they won’t be sued.
But when the DOJ (and others) are sued, they tend to return property pretty damn quickly. Empyreal was represented by the Institute for Justice in this case, an entity that has successfully secured several returns of property illegally seized by government employees.
And this isn’t the end of the litigation, even though it has resulted in the return of almost all of the money seized by law enforcement officers in two states. As the Institute for Justice notes, the sheriff who claimed he would prevail is still being sued and Empyreal is still seeking the return of $165,000 seized in Kansas.
In exchange for the return of the funds, Empyreal will dismiss its case against the federal government over the seizures. The settlement announced today does not include the San Bernardino County Sheriff and does not affect a separate civil forfeiture action in Kansas in which Empyreal is represented by separate counsel.
The seizures in California expose the bad faith activities of local law enforcement. Weed sales are legal in California but illegal under federal law. Seizing the cash and sending it to the feds laundered the forfeiture, allowing it to be represented as illegal earnings under federal law when the same earnings would be considered legal under state law. This is a crime of opportunity. And it’s being perpetrated by law enforcement officers who’d rather have other people’s cash than a pristine reputation or a healthy relationship with the people they serve.