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United States of America v. Approximately $158

March 15, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $158,000.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY,
DEFENDANT.



ORDER DENYING CLAIMANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. 10) INTRODUCTION

The government has filed a verified complaint seeking forfeiture of approximately $158,000.00 seized from a yellow F.J. Cruiser registered to James Choe and driven by Lyndon Ahn. The forfeiture sought by the government is premised on alleged violations of 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) as proceeds traceable to the exchange of a controlled substance and 31 U.S.C. §§ 5316, 5317 and 5332 as a monetary instrument of more than $10,000.00 transported to a place in the United States from a place outside the United States without report to the Secretary of Treasury. Claimants, Steve Yun Lee and James Choe, now seek an order dismissing the government‟s forfeiture complaint pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6).

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn1

On February 22, 2012, Fresno County Sheriff Detectives Israel Rubalcava and Jake Jensen initiated a traffic stop on a yellow Toyota F.J. Cruiser based on the vehicle having tinted windows, which the government claims is in violation of California Vehicle Code § 26708.5. Detective Jensen made contact with Lyndon Ahn, the sole occupant of the vehicle. As Mr. Ahn gathered his license and registration information, Detective Jensen observed two cellular phones in the vehicle‟s front passenger seat and a third in a cup holder in the center console. When asked, Mr. Ahn disclosed that the vehicle belonged to James Choe. As Mr. Ahn handed his license and registration information to Detective Jensen, the detective noticed that Mr. Ahn‟s hand was trembling. Mr. Ahn informed Detective Jensen that he was travelling from Sacramento to Los Angeles after a single day stay in Sacramento where Mr. Ahn visited a friend who had recently moved to a new place.

Detective Jensen asked Mr. Ahn as to whether there were weapons, narcotics, or large sums of money inside the vehicle. Mr. Ahn denied the presence of any of the three items. After Detective Rubalcava wrote Mr. Ahn a citation, Detective Jensen received Mr. Ahn‟s consent to search the vehicle and discovered a cardboard box, a duffel bag, and an orange and blue backpack containing two foil wrapped and vacuum sealed packages. Detective Jensen asked Mr. Ahn what the contents of the vacuum sealed packages were. He replied, "I think it‟s money." Detective Jensen then called Detective Philip Lodge and requested that he and his narcotic detection canine "Tag" come to the stop‟s location to determine the presence of any controlled substances. Detective Lodge and "Tag" performed an exterior and interior search of the vehicle. "Tag" gave a positive alert to the odor of narcotics in the interior cargo area, the cardboard box and the backpack.

After a positive alert for narcotics, Detectives Jensen and Rubalcava opened the two vacuum sealed packages and discovered two large bundles of currency amounting to $158,000.00 in U.S. currency.

Mr. Ahn told the detectives that the money did not belong to him but belonged to "a friend of his uncle," who goes by the name of Young Kim. Mr. Kim had provided the money to Mr. Ahn with instructions to deposit the money in a bank in Los Angeles. When asked which bank he intended to deposit the money in, Mr. Ahn replied that he was unsure. Mr. Ahn indicated that he was going to deposit the money in Los Angeles rather than Sacramento because "that is how he does business." Mr. Ahn told detectives that he is a real estate broker and that the money was to go toward a payment on real property in Los Angeles. Mr. Ahn indicated that there was about $150,000.00 in the packages. Mr. Ahn claimed to know that it had to be at least that amount "because that is the minimum you would need to put a down payment to purchase house."

Mr. Ahn indicated that Mr. Kim had brought the money to the United States from Korea, where Mr. Kim is a businessman. Mr. Ahn claims that Mr. Kim had told him that Mr. Kim brought the money to the United States in a suitcase tucked between his clothes.

At this point the Detectives informed Mr. Ahn that the money was to be seized and provided him with Asset Forfeiture Proceeding forms and a Claim Opposing Forfeiture form.

On May 4, 2012, James Choe and Steven Yun Lee filed claims to the defendant currency. Steven Yun claims to be owner of 85% of the defendant currency and James Choe claims to be owner of the remaining 15%.

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule E of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty and Maritime Claims applies to actions in rem. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R E(1).*fn2 Rule E requires that complaint‟s in forfeiture in rem proceedings state the circumstances from which the claim arises with such particularity that the defendant or claimant will be able, without moving for a more definite statement, to commence an investigation of the facts and to frame a responsive pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R E(2)(a). To sufficiently state a claim for relief and survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the pleading "does not need detailed factual allegations" but the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Mere "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id . Rather, there must be "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. In other words, the "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal ,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A claimant with standing may move for dismissal of an in rem forfeiture action under Rule 12(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R G(8)(b)(i). The sufficiency of the complaint is governed by Rule G(2). Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R G(8)(b)(ii).

Rule G of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty and Maritime Claims governs forfeiture actions in rem arising from a federal statute. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R G(1). Rule G requires that a complaint seeking forfeiture: (a) be verified; (b) state the grounds for subject-matter jurisdiction, in rem jurisdiction over the defendant property, and venue; (c) describe the property with reasonable particularity; (d) if the property is tangible, state its location when any seizure occurred and -- if different -- its location when the action is filed; (e) identify the statute under which the forfeiture action is brought; and (f) state sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R G(2)(a-f).

In this action, Claimants dispute only the government‟s ability to "state sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial." Thus, in order to survive the motion to dismiss the government need only have alleged sufficient facts to create a reasonable belief that the ...


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