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United States v. $100

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 31, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$100, 000 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY SEIZED FROM VERNETTA CASADY, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT Re: Dkt. No. 18

JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY, Magistrate Judge.

This is a judicial forfeiture action brought under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) involving the seizure of Defendant $100, 000 in United States currency seized from Vernetta Casady ("Defendant $100, 000 (VC)") and Defendant $100, 000 in United States currency seized from Michael Tucci ("Defendant $100, 000 (MT)"). The clerk has entered default, and the United States now brings a Motion for Default Judgment ("Motion"). A hearing on the Motion was held on July 31, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. and no party appeared to make a claim on either defendant sum. For the reasons stated below, and good cause appearing, the Motion is GRANTED.[1]

BACKGROUND

A. Factual Allegations

On June 13, 2013, at approximately 10:15 a.m., agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") initiated surveillance at the San Francisco International Airport ("SFO"), in the area of Gate No. 40, anticipating the arrival of Delta Airlines Flight #745. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 9.) The DEA agents observed Vernetta Casady whose description matched that of woman who was taking Flight #745 from Detroit to SFO. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 9.) During a routine security screening at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") officers identified the woman whose description matched Casady's as having a large sum of money which the she claimed totaled $60, 000. ( Id. ) At approximately 10:30 a.m., Casady was observed exiting Delta Flight #745 with a male passenger, later identified as Michael Tucci. ( Id. )

Two DEA agents approached Casady to conduct a consensual encounter. ( Id. at ¶ 10.) The agents explained to Casady that she was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time, which she appeared to understand. ( Id. ) At the same time, agents approached Tucci from the other side to conduct a consensual encounter explaining that he was not under arrest and he was free to leave at any time. ( Id. )

1. Money seized from search of Vernetta Casady

Upon the agent's request, Casady identified herself to the agents using her Michigan Identification card. ( Id. ¶ 11.) She told the agents she was visiting San Francisco on vacation and that she planned to return to Michigan six days later, but she was unable to provide proof of a return flight. ( Id. ) During the encounter, Casady's answers to questions regarding her travel were evasive, she appeared overly nervous, and her face reddened. ( Id. ) Casady appeared to attempt to control the conversation by repeatedly asking why the agents wanted to speak to her, but did not try to leave the area and continued speaking with the agents and remained in conversation with them. ( Id. ) One of the DEA agents asked Casady if she was carrying any United States currency; she admitted that she was and said that she did not think it was illegal to do so. ( Id. ¶ 12.) The agents told her that it was not if the currency was being carried for a legitimate reason, which was what the agents were attempting to determine. ( Id. ) Casady told the agents that she had $60, 000 with her, but stated that she did not want them to search her carry-on luggage. ( Id. ) Casady stated that the money was so she could "have a good time" on her trip and go shopping while in wine country; however, she could not confirm where she was staying in wine country or whether she had reserved any lodging. ( Id. )

When asked where she obtained such a large amount of cash, Casady said it was money she had saved which she keeps in her residence. ( Id. ¶ 14.) She claimed that she owned a parking lot maintenance business, but was unable to provide any proof of the businesses existence such as business cards, a website, or email address. ( Id. ¶ 15.) Casady indicated that the company made about $100, 000 gross income in 2012. ( Id. ) She provided a business card for a company called Nu Skin for which she worked as an "Independent Distributor." ( Id. ¶ 16.)

One of the agents again asked for Casady's consent to search her bags and she stated that she did not know why they needed to see the money. ( Id. ¶ 17.) The agent told her that he suspected that she brought the large amount of currency to California to buy drugs or that the money was the proceeds of drug transactions. ( Id. ) Casady denied that this was the case, but she could not provide logical answers regarding where she got the money or what she intended to do with it. ( Id. ) The agent explained that without her consent to search the bags, the agents would have to seize her bags and apply for a search warrant which would take a day or two. ( Id. ¶ 18.) Casady then consented to the search. ( Id. ) The agent explained that she did not have to consent to the search, that she had the right to refuse the search and that any consent she provided would be voluntary and done on her own without any influence from the agents. ( Id. ) Casady said she understood and was willing to consent to the search. ( Id. )

The DEA agents searched her rolling carry-on and found numerous rubber-banded bundles of currency. ( Id. ¶ 19.) The agent asked her if she had more money in her purse and Casady stated that she did not, but admitted that she did after the agent asked if he could search her purse. ( Id. ) Casady told the agents the total amount of currency was $100, 000, and when asked why she initially told them she had only $60, 000, she said that she was only answering as to the money found by the TSA officers during the security check at the Detroit airport. ( Id. ) The total amount of currency was $100, 000 which is now a defendant in this case. ( Id. ) The $100, 000 consisted of 2700 bills and was in the following denominations: $100 × 500, $50 × 200, $20 × 2000. ( Id. )

One of the DEA agents asked Casady about her connection to Tucci, and Casady indicated that he was an old friend from Michigan whom she happened to meet on the plane by coincidence. ( Id. ¶ 20.) The DEA agent told Casady that Tucci was carrying a large sum of money as well and asked her if she knew why; she indicated that she did not as she only happened to run into him on the plane. ( Id. ) The DEA agent told her that it seemed unlikely that two people claiming to be friends would happen to run into each other on a plane and both be travelling with a large sum of cash. ( Id. ) Casady had no response. ( Id. ) The agent then told Casady that the money was going to be seized based on the totality of the circumstances on the basis that it was money brought to California with the intent to purchase illegal drugs or that it was the proceeds of illegal drug transactions. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Casady denied that the money was for drugs, but did not offer any other explanation. ( Id. )

The $100, 000 was placed in a self-sealing DEA evidence bag and placed behind a ticket kiosk. ( Id. ¶ 23.) Logan, a narcotics detection canine, was brought to the location to conduct a search; he located the bag and sat staring at it which was an indication that the odor of illegal drugs was emanating from the currency inside the evidence bag. ( Id. ) Logan is certified to detect heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine. ( Id. ¶ 24.) The DEA agent working with him has handled and trained him since October 2012. ( Id. ) Logan has successfully located drugs over 150 times in connection with training and deployment. ( Id. )

The DEA evidence bag was then taken to the SFO Bank of America and converted into a cashier's check for $100, 000 made payable to the United States Marshal's Service (cashier's check #XXXXXXXXX).

2. Money seized from search of Michael Tucci

Two other DEA agents consensually interviewed Tucci at the same time Casady was being interviewed. ( Id. ¶ 26.) Tucci told the agents that he came to visit some friends in San Francisco and to play poker at the Bay 101 Poker Club. ( Id. ¶ 27.) The agents noticed that Tucci began to sweat profusely as he was speaking such that sweat ran down his forehead into his eyes. ( Id. ) When the agents asked him about his sweating, Tucci stated that he had the flu. ( Id. ) Tucci provided his Michigan driver's license as his identification. ( Id. ) One of the agents asked Tucci if he had ever been arrested. ( Id. ) Although he initially stated that he had not, he later admitted that he had been arrested in Oklahoma for possession of marijuana and that at the time of his arrest he had $15, 000 in cash seized. ( Id. ) Tucci indicated that he had purchased a return plane ticket for Sunday, July 16th. Tucci stated that Casady was a family friend. ( Id. ) When he was asked if he was staying with her in San Francisco, he stated "No, I'm gonna visit friends and play poker and she is gonna do her thing." ( Id. ) Tucci advised that he did not have reservations to stay anywhere in San Francisco. ( Id. )

When one of the DEA agents asked Tucci if he was currently in possession of any illegal narcotics, he said "No, but I have some money." ( Id. ¶ 28.) Tucci told the agents that he had "Over $100, 000" because he plays high stakes poker tournaments. ( Id. ) The agents asked Tucci if they could search his bags and he said yes. ( Id. ) During the search of his suitcase, the agent observed three large bundles of United States currency and numerous other rubber-banded bundles of currency during the search of his computer bag. ( Id. )

Tucci told the agents that he owns a construction company, Great Lakes Gunite and Construction in Sterling Heights, Michigan, which had $1.4 million in sales last year. ( Id. ) The agents asked Tucci if he had withdrawn the money from a bank and he said "No, I had it in a safe." ( Id. ) The agents later confirmed that there was a business matching this name in Sterling Heights Michigan and nearby Royal Oaks, Michigan. ( Id. ¶ ...


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