By Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ in News
Monday, January 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm
An Illinois man says the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is improperly holding $14,000 in cash taken from his stepson as supposed "drug money" when it was actually money he had sent with the young man to buy rare coins.
"It's literally highway robbery -- that's literally what it is," said Oklahoma City-based attorney Chad Moody. "They pull you over, they take your money."
After State Trooper Joe Kimmons said he smelled the odor of smoked marijuana coming from the car, he reported finding "marijuana residue" in the car and on the pants of a passenger in the car.
When he searched the trunk of the vehicle, he found a black duffel bag with some fabric softener sheets -- "a common tool for masking the smell of drugs" -- inside. He also found a roll of trash bags, "another common find in the car of a drug trafficker."
When he rummaged through another duffel bag, he found a white bank envelope containing $14,000. Kimmons thought, what with fabric softener sheets and trash bags, that was that -- all that money "must" be "tied to drugs," so he seized it.
Nearly 2.5 years later, the stepfather of the man with the marijuana residue on his pants has a chance to recover the money which he said wasn't tied to drugs, and was his all along.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals last month ruled that the stepfather deserves a day in court in which the state should have to prove the money was, in fact, "drug money." A lower court had thrown out the stepfather's previous claim to the money, supposedly for "procedural reasons."
|Southern Illinois University|
|Brooks Burr produced bank records showing he had withdrawn the $14,000 the day before to give his stepson|
The stepfather, Brooks Burr, 61, a rare coin collector and zoology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, said he gave the money to his stepson to buy coins for him at a rare coin show in Las Vegas, according to court records.
Felony "drug money possession" charges against Burr's stepson were dismissed after Burr produced records showing the money was withdrawn from his bank account the day before it was seized by Trooper Kimmons.
But despite the bank records and the dismissed charge, an attorney for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety claimed the agency still believes the cash was "drug money."
They really don't wanna let go of that $14 grand.
How It All Started
When the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stopped Robert Shaw, then 43, for failure to use a turn signal in 2008, they thought Shaw "seemed nervous" when brought to the patrol car for routine questioning, reports John Estus at NewsOK. State Trooper Joe Kimmons later claimed it was "obvious (Shaw) wanted to exit my car and run."
|Christopher Geyerman in 2008, the year the incident occurred|
But Shaw, who had told the trooper he was traveling through Oklahoma on his way to see friends in Arizona and gamble in Las Vegas, didn't make a break for it when Trooper Kimmons went back to the car and asked the passenger -- Christopher Geyerman of Illinois, then 25 -- why he and Shaw were in Oklahoma.
"Geyerman appeared to be 'high,' " Kimmons claimed in an affidavit. About then, Kimmons claimed he smelled marijuana.
Looking at Geyerman's lap, the trooper claimed he saw what appeared to be "marijuana debris" on his pants. He claimed he later found more marijuana in an ashtray in the center console and on Geyerman.
While Kimmons was searching the car, Geyerman and Shaw were placed in the patrol car. The video recorder in the card recorded Geyerman and Shaw discussing the money.
"Geyerman advises Shaw that if I asked about the money, it was a gift from Geyerman's stepdad in order for Geryerman to move to Nevada," Kimmons said.
|Attorney Chad W. Moody: "They pull you over, they take your money"|
Kimmons continued searching Shaw's car and found two cell phones belonging to Geyerman.
"I found this odd because Geyerman had advised me he was unemployed," Kimmons wrote.
Kimmons listed the cell phones as an "indicator of criminal activity" in his affidavit. Another supposed "indicator" was the fact that they were in another person's car -- Burr's.
Kimmons also claimed "criminal activity" was likely because of the "behavior" of Geyerman and Shaw, as well as air fresheners found in the car, a roll of plastic trash bags, the duffel bags and the $14,000 in cash.
After he arrested the men, the trooper asked Geyerman about the money.
"Geyerman advised me that the currency was his and that it was a gift from his stepdad so he could gamble in Vegas," Kimmons wrote.
Geyerman pleaded guilty to a felony count of marijuana possession; Shaw's case is still pending.
Overzealous In Seizing Cash?
|Photo: the [non]billable hour|
|Oklahoma City Attorney Chad Moody's van attracts attention wherever it goes|
Burr hired Moody, a colorful Oklahoma City attorney who often parks a yellow Volkswagen van near the Oklahoma County courthouse emblazoned with painted marijuana leaves and promoting Moody as "The Drug Lawyer," to represent him in spring 2009.
Moody provided the Department of Public Safety with Burr's bank records, which showed $14,000 was withdrawn from his account the day before Trooper Kimmons seized the money.
Prosecutors then dismissed the drug money possession charge.
"Yet, they continue to try to keep this money," Moody said.
Moody said the cash seizure is part of a pattern of overzealous behavior by state law enforcement agents, whose jobs have become increasingly dependent on seized drug money to fund operations.
"Basically, if drugs and cash are in the same place, they say it's drug money," Moody said. "I'm looking forward to our day in court."