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United States v. Approximately $45

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 24, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $45, 860 IN U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 16

JOSEPH C. SPERO, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an in rem action by the United States of America seeking forfeiture of $45, 860 in United States currency (the "Currency") seized after the consensual search of an Express Mail package. The United States alleges that the Currency is subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) due to its use in or derivation from transactions involving a controlled substance. Having complied with the notice requirements for a forfeiture action and received no claims to the Currency, the United States sought and received entry of default, and now moves for default judgment. The Court held a hearing on March 20, 2015. For the reasons stated below, the United States' Motion for Default Judgment is GRANTED.[1]

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

On March 18, 2014, postal inspectors at the United States Postal Service Oakland Processing and Distribution Center examined the exterior of an Express Mail package bearing the tracking number EM998577188US (the "Package"). Compl. (dkt. 1) ¶ 7.[2] The Package had been shipped overnight from North Carolina to Alameda, California. Id. ¶ 9. Based on the Package's weight, labeling, method of shipping, origin, and destination, Postal Inspector Christopher McCollow became suspicious that the Package was related to illegal drug trafficking. Id. A certified canine handler from the South San Francisco Police Department arrived with his dog Dugan. Id. ¶ 10. Dugan, who is certified to detect the scent of controlled substances including marijuana, exhibited a change in behavior when exposed to the Package indicating that he had detected such a scent. Id.

The Package was addressed to Lorenzo Newell. Id. ¶ 11. Postal inspectors determined that Newell did not live at the destination address. Id. A person at that address informed postal inspectors that Newell was not present and she was not sure when he would return. Id. Postal inspectors tried unsuccessfully to contact Newell by telephone. Id.

The return address on the Package included the name Cameren[3] Cook and the address 420 Mangum[4] Court, Fayetteville, North Carolina, as well as a telephone number. Id. ¶ 12 & Ex. A. Postal inspectors could not determine the current resident at that address, although a records search revealed a connection to someone named Adidas McNair. Id. ¶ 13. Postal inspectors called Cook, who told them that the Package contained $46, 000 in cash that he was sending to Newell, a friend, for delivery to a family member of Cook for safekeeping. Id. ¶ 14. Cook consented to the postal inspectors opening the Package. Id.

The postal inspectors opened the Package and found tissue paper, Men's Wearhouse plastic bags, and Jockey-brand underwear boxes wrapped in duct tape. Id. ¶ 15 & Exs. B-D. The boxes contained $45, 860 in U.S. currency, including denominations ranging from five- to one hundred-dollar bills (the "Currency"). Id. ¶¶ 15, 17 & Exs. E-G. The vast majority of the Currency consisted of twenty-dollar bills. Id. ¶ 17; see id. Ex. G. The Complaint states that "[b]ased on his training and experience, Inspector McCollow is aware that narcotics traffickers often use low denomination currency, primarily twenty dollar bills, to conduct their business." Id. ¶ 18.

A criminal history check revealed that, in 2011, Cook had been sentenced to three years in prison in Oklahoma for distribution of controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute. Id. ¶ 19. That conviction stemmed from a traffic stop for speeding, during which police found approximately four and a half pounds of marijuana in mailing envelopes in the trunk of a rental car that Cameron was driving. Id. ¶ 20. Cook's address at the time was listed as Richmond, California, and the rental car had California license plates. Id.

Postal inspectors telephoned Cook again after opening the Package. Id. ¶ 21. It is not clear from the Complaint whether that call occurred after the postal inspectors became aware of Cook's criminal history. See id. Cook claimed that the money was from a "cash business" selling music, and that he "sent the money to Lorenzo Newell for delivery to the family member because he thought previous money he sent to the family member had been stolen." Id. "Postal Inspector McCollow explained the forfeiture process to Cook and advised him that his money was being seized as part of the process." Id. ¶ 22. The Complaint states that the currency "was seized as proceeds of narcotic transactions or monies used in the furtherance of narcotic trafficking under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6)." Id. ¶ 24.

The Complaint also recounts an incident that occurred some time after the postal inspectors opened the package:

Four months later, on July 23, 2014, police pursued a car near a community outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina, after the car had caused a police car to run off the road. Once police caught up with the car, they encountered Cook. Police found a shrink-wrapped package containing three pounds of suspected marijuana, which Cook claimed. Police also found a Glock 27 semi-automatic handgun. Cook was arrested for both ...

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