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United States v. Approximately $147

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 31, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $147, 900.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE THE CLAIM AND ANSWER OF YIN YE YANG AND GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT (DOC. 22)

          SHEILA K. OBERTO. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this in rem forfeiture action, Plaintiff United States of America (the “Government” or “Plaintiff) filed a Motion to Strike the Claim and Answer filed by Yin Ye Yang (“Yang” or “Claimant”) on the basis that Yang did not provide Court-ordered discovery. (Doc. 22.) In the Motion, the Government also seeks an entry of default judgment against Yang and a final judgment of forfeiture against all known and unknown potential claimants to the Approximately $147, 900.00 in U.S. Currency (the “Defendant Currency”). No opposition to the Government's motion has been filed, and the time to file an opposition has expired. The Court reviewed the motion and supporting document and found the matter suitable for decision without argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g); thus the May 24, 2017, hearing was vacated. (Doc. 24.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the Government's Motion.[1]

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

         On June 10, 2016, the Government filed a complaint alleging that, on October 24, 2015, a Fresno County Sheriff Deputy was traveling southbound on Interstate 5, approaching Jayne Avenue in Fresno County, California, when he observed a silver Honda Odyssey (California license #7LEH945) following too closely to the vehicle directly in front of it, in violation of California Vehicle Code § 21703. (Doc. 1. (“Compl.”) ¶6.) As the deputy prepared to initiate a traffic stop on the Honda, the Honda quickly and unsafely changed lanes in violation of California Vehicle Code § 21658(a). (Id. ¶ 7.)

         The deputy moved behind the Honda and conducted a traffic stop. (Id. ¶ 8) The deputy made contact with the driver and sole occupant of the Honda, Yang, and advised Yang of the purpose for the stop. (Id.) Yang presented the deputy with a paper “Interim Driver License” issued from the State of California and a New York Driver license (707541070) with a hole punched through the license. (Id.)

         The deputy asked Yang whether there was anything illegal in his vehicle and Yang stated that there was not. (Id. ¶ 9.) When asked whether Yang would mind if the vehicle was searched, Yang answered, “No, ” and exited the vehicle from the driver's side door. (Id.) Yang then opened the driver's side rear sliding door and stated, “Go ahead.” (Id.) As the van door was opened, the deputy observed that the middle row of seats had been removed from within the vehicle. (Id.) When asked why the seats were taken out, Yang stated that earlier he had moved a television. (Id.)

         The deputy observed a factory manufacturer's storage area in the floorboard of the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 11.) The storage area was situated in the middle of the vehicle, right behind the front seats. (Id.) The storage area was opened and the deputy observed a pair of tennis shoes and a black and blue Bloomingdales paper bag. (Id.) As the deputy reached for the bag, he observed that underneath the bag was a “Physician's Statement & Recommendation” for Yang. (Id.)

         The deputy opened the paper bag and observed a white plastic bag tied in a knot. (Id. ¶ 12.) In the white plastic bag, the deputy observed the Defendant Currency, packaged in $100 bills. (Id.) The deputy opened the plastic bag and observed that the Defendant Currency had been wrapped with two separate, slightly translucent, white plastic bags. (Id.) When the deputy removed the white bag from the Bloomingdales bag, a Medical Marijuana Recommendation Identification card fell out of the bag. (Id.) The card was issued to Yang on September 15, 2015. (Id.)

         Both plastic bags were opened and the deputy observed three large bundles of currency wrapped in rubber bands. (Id. ¶ 13.) On top of the bundles of the Defendant Currency was a handwritten note on a torn piece of paper. (Id.) The note appeared to read “147, 000.” (Id.) Yang was asked whether the money belonged to him. (Id. ¶ 14.) Yang said that it did. (Id.) When asked how much money was in the bag, Yang stated “$140, 000.” (Id.)

         The deputy resumed his search of the vehicle and located a notepad on the center console. (Id. ¶ 15.) The notepad appeared to have some notations with both dollar amounts and some type of Chinese writing. (Id.) In the back storage area, behind the rear seat, the deputy located a one-gallon container of liquid fertilizer with the label “Bud Ignitor.” (Id.)

         At about 8:00 p.m., a narcotic canine detective arrived and utilized the narcotic detecting canine “Kash” to conduct a sniff search for the presence of the odor of narcotics. (Id. ¶ 18.) The detective was advised by the deputy of the nature of the traffic stop and that Yang had provided consent to the search the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 24.) The detective conducted a safety inspection of the vehicle for anything that could cause potential harm to Kash. (Id.) Kash was then directed to begin his sniff at the exterior of the vehicle. (Id.) Kash commenced his search at the front left corner of the vehicle, and moved to the passenger's sliding door. (Id.) The detective opened the driver's side door and the passenger's sliding door and allowed Kash to enter the vehicle. (Id.) Kash went to the rear passenger floorboard area and continued his search. (Id.) Kash sniffed directly above a manufactured storage compartment located on the floorboard behind the center console and gave a positive and final response to the odor of narcotics. (Id.) The compartment was opened and Kash placed his head inside the compartment and gave a positive and final response to the odor of narcotics on a white plastic grocery bag inside the compartment. (Id.)

         At approximately 8:00 p.m., a second deputy arrived on scene to provide assistance. (Id. ¶ 25.) The second deputy contacted Yang and determined that he spoke English but that Yang's dominant language was Cantonese. (Id.) The second deputy contacted a general mobile interpretation service through AT&T Translator, and was put in touch with Flora #225817, who was fluent in Cantonese. (Id.) The second deputy had Flora translate his conversation with Yang to Cantonese for Yang. (Id.)

         Yang gave a confused description of his trip and the reason for his possession of the Defendant Currency. (Id.) Yang's story was inconsistent and vague. (Id.) The second deputy asked Yang from where he was coming. (Id. ¶ 26.) Yang stated that he was coming from Oakland and driving to San Gabriel. (Id.) Yang stated that he was in Oakland just for the day. (Id.) When asked what he was doing with so much money in his car, Yang replied that back in 2009 he was living in New York and was running a restaurant. (Id.) Yang explained that he loaned a friend of his, by the name of “Pak, ” several supply items for which Pak never paid Yang. (Id.) Initially, Yang tried to explain that all of the Defendant Currency did not belong to him but only part of it did. (Id.) Yang stated that some of the money was from Pak and that some belonged to other people to whom Yang owed money. (Id.) Yang then changed his story and said all of the Defendant Currency belonged to him. (Id.)

         Yang was then asked if he knew Pak from New York, whether Yang had lent Pak the supplies in New York, and how Yang found out that Pak was in California with money for Yang to collect. (Id.) Yang stated that he knew Pak was in California and that he had gone to Oakland to pick up the Defendant Currency. (Id.) When asked whether he met with Pak to pick up the money, Yang stated that he did not meet with Pak. (Id.) Yang stated he contacted Pak and Yang was supposed to meet him at an unknown parking lot; instead, a subject Yang only knew of as “Jong” arrived and gave Yang the Defendant Currency. (Id.) Yang continued by saying he does not know Jong and only met him that day. (Id.)

         Yang was asked whether if he presently lived in California or in New York. (Id. ¶ 27.) Yang stated that he spent most of his time in New York but stayed in California. Yang was asked how he planned to move the Defendant Currency from California to New York. (Id.) Yang then changed his story again and said the Defendant Currency was to be used for a down payment on a house and for gas. (Id.) Yang also stated he was trying to bring his wife and child from China to the United States. (Id.) The second deputy asked Yang where he worked, which was difficult for Yang to explain. (Id.) All the deputy could get from Yang was that he worked as a truck driver for a warehouse. (Id.)

         Yang was then asked why his Medical Marijuana recommendation was in the same bag as the Defendant Currency. (Id. ¶ 28.) Yang did not reply and only said he had been involved in a car accident and now takes marijuana for pain. (Id.) Yang was asked whether the Defendant Currency was from the sales of narcotics, and Yang responded it was not. (Id.) When asked how much money he had in his possession, Yang answered that he had $150, 010.00. (Id.) After opening the packaging, the detective observed a white envelope that had been torn and the number 147, 900 written in green ink on the torn envelope. (Id. ¶ 29.) This number was consistent with the total amount of the Defendant Currency the detectives seized from Yang. (Id.)

         III. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On June 10, 2016, the Government filed a civil action for forfeiture in rem pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) of the Defendant Currency. (Doc. 1). On June 22, 2016, the Court issued a Warrant for Arrest of Articles In Rem for the Defendant Currency. (Doc. 3.) The Warrant for Arrest of the Defendant Currency was executed on June 29, 2016. (Doc. 4.)

         Public notice of the action and the arrest of the Defendant Currency was published via the official internet government forfeiture site (www.forfeiture.gov) for at least 30 consecutive calendar days. (Doc. 5.) Publication began on June 21, 2016, and proof of such publication was filed with the Court on July 21, 2016. (Id.)

         On August 4, 2016, Yang filed a Claim for the Defendant Currency. (Doc. 6.) Yang filed his Answer to the complaint on September 28, 2016. (Doc. 12.) No other person has filed a claim for the Defendant Currency.

         To ascertain the basis for Yang's claim, on August 5, 2016, the United States served a set of Special Interrogatories on him pursuant to Rule G(6) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (hereafter “Supplemental Rules”). (See Doc. 19-1, ¶ 2 and Ex. A.) The special interrogatories sought information pertaining to “the claimant's identity and relationship to the defendant property . . . .” Supplemental Rule G(6)(a).

         Yang submitted his responses to the Rule G(6) Special Interrogatories on September 28, 2016, following an initial extension of time requested by Yang's counsel. (See Doc. 19-1 ¶¶ 3-4 and Ex. B.) In response to Special Interrogatory numbers 6 through 9, 14, and 15, Yang stated that the Defendant Currency came from relatives for the purchase of a residence, but was still working to obtain more information which Yang stated would be provided at a later date. (Id. ΒΆ 4 and Ex. B.) In these same responses, Yang objected to several ...


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