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Police Illegally Seize $50,000 From Man’s Casino Winnings During Routine Traffic Stop

nevada patrol 2Tan Nguyen and Ken Smith had their cash and property taken by what some would call a modern day outlaw while driving on one of America’s busiest highways: Interstate 80 in Northern Nevada. The most disturbing thing about the two men’s story is the identity of the highwayman: a deputy for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s like Jesse James or Black Bart,” Nguyen’s attorney, John Ohlson, said of the actions of Deputy Lee Dove. Nguyen alleged that Dove stopped him for driving three miles over the speed limit on September 23, 2013, then forced him to turn over $50,000 in cash he had won gambling at a casino.

“He wasn’t charged with anything,” Ohlson said of his client. “He had no drugs in his car. The pretext for stopping him was he was doing 78 in a 75.”

He wasn’t even given a ticket.

Dove made Nguyen, a California resident, sign a waiver surrendering the cash to the county. If Nguyen didn’t turn over the cash, Dove threatened to have his car towed and abandon him in the desert. Dove was exercising a questionable legal doctrine called asset forfeiture which gives law enforcement the right to seize money or property from suspects.

Illegally Seized Cash Displayed On Facebook

If that wasn’t bad enough, the sheriff’s department actually publicized the illegal seizure. Dove posted a picture of himself and Zyla the police dog posing with the cash on his Facebook page. The department also sent out a press release that read: “This cash would have been used to purchase illegal drugs and now will benefit Humboldt County with training and equipment. Great job.”

The True Christian Heritage and Christian Ideals That Are Woven Into The Very Fabric Of The Constitution…

To get his money back, Nguyen had to sue Humboldt County, Dove and Sheriff Ed Kilgore, and the county eventually settled with Nguyen for $50,000 and $10,000 in attorney’s fees. In the suit, Ohlson contended that Dove had violated Nguyen’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment bans unreasonable search and seizure.

Meanwhile, Dove allegedly also took both $13,800 in cash and a legally owned pistol from another man, Ken Smith of Colorado, on Dec. 16, 2013. In that incident Dove detained Smith because he had a warrant with the name Ken Smith on it. The Ken Smith mentioned in the warrant is African American; the man Dove stopped was white.

Like Nguyen, Smith was eventually allowed to leave after signing a document surrendering the cash and his .40 caliber Ruger pistol. Smith claims he was so frightened by Dove that he now suffers from emotional distress. Like Nguyen, Smith has sued Humboldt County in federal court.

“It’s pretty scary to be out in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road and be told all your stuff is going to be taken away,” Smith’s attorney, Jeff Dickerson, told the Associated Press.

Humboldt County is around 185 miles east of Reno on I-80.

Forfeiture Corridors A Growing Problem

The seizures in Humboldt County are an example of a nationwide growing problem called forfeiture corridors. In a forfeiture corridor, law enforcement officers stop vehicles, seize cash from motorists then let them go. The idea is that the cash belongs to drug dealers or other criminals but law-abiding citizens are increasingly getting caught in these traps.

Story continues below video

Some well-known forfeiture corridors include:

  • I-40 in Tennessee. Off the Grid News and Channel 5 Nashville reported that seizures on the corridor were so profitable that local cops had set up rival drug taskforces to seize cash from drug runners.
  • I-70 through Madison County in Southern Illinois. Huffington Post columnist Radley Balko reported that police regularly stop cars with out of state plates and search for cash. “The joke around our office is that all you need for probable cause in Madison County is an Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, or Florida license plate,” local public defender John Rekowski said of the area’s police. Balko estimated that police in Madison County may have made as much as $5 million from forfeitures.
  • I-95 in Camden County, Georgia. Institute for Justice attorney Nick Sibilla noted that Sheriff Bill Smith’s deputies seized over $20 million for drivers in two decades.

“Asset forfeiture today, the way it exists federally, as well as in many states, is an institutional corruption,” retired Judge Jim Gray said of the practice, in a Forbes.com column.

What do you think about the “policing for profit” controversy? Let us know in the comments below. 

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13 comments

  1. Juan we are becoming more like your home country Mexico. Where are you going to run to now that we are just another shake down country?

  2. I had a similar situation but fared better in southern IL last December. Driving back home in a rental car with AZ plates, the cop claims I was speeding and touched the white line. I had been driving for 9 hours planning to stop for the night once I was outside of IL. I don’t spend a penny in that fascist state.

    The cop asks if I’d been drinking or taking any drugs since my eyes were a bit bleary from the long drive. I say no. He then asks me to go back to his truck and takes a long time to review the rental contract, acting confused by it. Which gives more time for the drug dog cop to arrive and sniff the rental car.

    Allegedly the dog alerts (who knows for sure…the handler can simply give a tug and the dog could illegally alert). Being a rental car that was used locally in Colorado it could have had traces of marijuana since it is legal in CO now.

    The cop then says probable cause and searches every inch of my belongings. Fortunately they were reasonable about my legally carried pistol.

    We can not tolerate this growing police state mentality of most local police departments. We need to determine the best way of pushing back and not allowing unreasonable search and seizure.

  3. Obviously,”legal tender” does not mean anything anymore.Everyone is a drug runner if you have more than 9,999 dollars in your possesion. I guess If I win big in Reno or Tahoe I need to have a check made out to me….It is a police state of mind.

    • Actually, the easiest thing they should have done was to have the casino they won at write out a W2-G form. When a person has a large amount of cash without documentation to show how they obtained it and/or why they have it it makes Law Enforcement circles nervous. IRS gambling declaration rules are set up for the protection of gamblers, not the casinos, just for that purpose alone. I know, I can hear it now, “the gov’t only wants their cut.” I won’t deny that it is taxable income per the IRS tax codes, but, if you want to keep most of your money rather than all of it due to seizures like this, I’d much rather it be reported and volunteer 15% to avoid nasty accusations and red tape. Sounds to me that those two committed the “Buck under Ten” scam quite a few times to avoid the dreaded W2-G. What that is, is that once a person takes $10,000 in tokes to the window for cash conversion, a W2-G is written out. But $9,999 is considered “tax free” How the IRS came out with that one is beyond me. However, Keno and Bingo has a $1,499 limit and Slots/Video Poker is $1,199. Never made any sense to me in any of the casinos I worked in.

    • These highwaymen are going to hate it when most people get the ability to easily convert USD to Bitcoin.

  4. Mary Janel O'Hara

    Simply take ur cash to a bank and purchase a cashiers check for your travels. Problem solved!

    • Yeah, then the cops wont be crooks, right? The corruption will be replaced with rainbows and unicorns apparently. All these porky parasites will do is find another method. The only fix for corruption is real consequences for the offenders. Our ‘leaders’ feel too safe being criminals.

  5. I would have kept my cash and let them tow my car. If i got injured in any way from being in the desert for an extended period of time, I’d sue their asses.

  6. Y’all get your pitchforks. I’ll bring mine, along with some torches and snacks.

  7. It seems to me like he not only has a case for the illegal seizure, but probably a defamation suit as well. That’s pretty awful that the cops put out a press release accusing him of being involved in drug trafficking.

  8. It’s another example of how the “war on drugs” has benefited no one except the drug dealers and law enforcement.

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