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Asset Forfeiture: ACLU Sues DEA Over Trucker's Seized Cash

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #500)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

A trucker who lost nearly $24,000 in cash after it was seized by a New Mexico police officer and turned over to the DEA is suing the federal drug agency to get his money back. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) New Mexico affiliate is handling the case. It filed the lawsuit on August 23.

On August 8, truck driver Anastasio Prieto of El Paso was stopped at a weigh station on US Highway 54 just north of El Paso. A police officer there asked for permission to search the truck for "needles or cash in excess of $10,000," according to the ACLU. Prieto said he didn't have any needles, but he was carrying $23,700 in cash. Officers seized the money and turned it over to the DEA, while DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto despite his objections, then released him without charges after he had been detained for six hours. Border Patrol agents sicced drug-sniffing dogs on his truck, but found no evidence of illegal drugs.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the state police and DEA violated Prieto's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure by taking his money without cause and by fingerprinting and photographing him. "Mere possession of approximately $23,700 does not establish probable cause for a search or seizure," the lawsuit said.

DEA agents told Prieto that to get his money back, he would have to prove it was his and not the proceeds of illegal drug sales. That process could take up to a year, the agents said.

But New Mexico ACLU state director Peter Simonson told the Associated Press Prieto needed his money now to pay bills. "The government took Mr. Prieto's money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night," Simonson said. "In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator."

According to the lawsuit, Prieto does not like banks and carries his savings as cash.

That's not a crime. But what the DEA did to him is, or should be.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

They did the same thing to a friend of mine. he had to get a lawyer to get it back. Why is it they take peoples money without any justifiable reason?

Fri, 09/07/2007 - 11:05pm Permalink
follyb (not verified)

Forfeiture is becoming more and more prevalent in this country.  To see the hundreds of pages of property our Government has seized from its citizens and plans to keep, go to "".  You need never be charged with a crime to have your property taken from you.  The Gov will typically start an "administrative forfeiture" against the property, hoping you will go away and they can keep the property.   If you have the audacity to file a claim for your property, they will then file a "judicial forfeiture" (also known as a law suit), against your property.  ( US v 2007 Ford Mustang  for instance or US v $14,000)---you will then probably be forced to hire an attorney to fight in court to maybe get your property back.  Many people give up when they realize how expensive and long this battle can be--tge courts have ruled that "years" is not too long to wait.  Your property can even be seized in someone else's criminal case, and be held by the Gov---you get no chance to protest until the conclusion of the criminal case---which again, can take years.  In the meantime, in both cases---do without your property, hire an attorney, and be prepared to wait, and wait and wait---and then you still might lose.

Wed, 09/15/2010 - 4:29pm Permalink

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