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United States v. Approximately $64

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

March 13, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $64, 470 and RICHARD THOMAS JAQUEZ, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KARLA R. SPAULDING UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         TO THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT:

         This cause came on for consideration without oral argument on the following motion filed herein:

         MOTION: UNITED STATES' MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT OF FORFEITURE (Doc. No. 14)

         FILED: February 20, 2018

         I. BACKGROUND.

         On November 28, 2017, the United States filed its Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem against Approximately $64, 470 (“Defendant Funds”). Doc. No. 1. In the complaint, the United States alleges that the Defendant Funds were seized in May 2017 from Richard Thomas Jaquez and his backpack. Agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) took custody of the Defendant Funds, and they remain in the custody of the United States. Id. ¶ 5.

         The Court issued a warrant of arrest in rem on November 29, 2017. Doc. No. 6. Thereafter, the United States complied with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rule G(4)(a)(i)-(iv) by posting a notice of this civil forfeiture action on its official website, www.forfeiture.gov, for a period of 30 consecutive days. Doc. No. 10. It also complied with Supplemental Rule G(4)(b) by sending notice of this civil forfeiture action to the only potential claimant, Mr. Jaquez, by certified and first class U.S. Mail on December 1, 2017. Doc. No. 11-1 ¶¶ 3-6.[1] The notice stated that Jaquez was required to file a verified claim within 35 days after the date of the notice-that is, by January 5, 2018. Doc. No. 11-2. That deadline passed, and Jaquez did not file a claim or answer. Accordingly, following a motion by the United States, the Clerk entered a default against Mr. Jaquez. Doc. Nos. 11-13.

         The United States now seeks the entry of a default judgment of forfeiture that forfeits to the United States all right, title, and interest in the Defendant Funds, which shall vest clear title to the Defendant Funds in the United States of America. Doc. No. 14. Mr. Jaquez has not filed a response to the motion, and the time for doing so has passed. Accordingly, the motion is ripe for decision.

         II. ALLEGATIONS OF THE VERIFIED COMPLAINT.

         In 2017, Mr. Jaquez was a resident of Oxnard, California, which is approximately 60 miles west of Los Angeles. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 9. On January 18, 2017, a law enforcement officer stopped Mr. Jaquez for a traffic infraction in Texas. Id. ¶ 10. At the time of the stop, Mr. Jaquez was driving a rental vehicle and heading east on Interstate 40 (“I-40”). Id. The officer found a duffel bag containing approximately 25 pounds of marijuana in Mr. Jaquez's vehicle. Id.

         I-40 is a major east-west interstate highway running through the south-central portion of the United States. Id. ¶ 11. If one were to travel from Oxnard to Orlando, I-40 would be a logical route. Id. California is a known source for marijuana. Id. ¶ 27. It is common for marijuana traffickers to transport marijuana from California to Florida in vehicles. Id. The traffickers often then fly back to California with the trafficking proceeds. As a result, traffickers often purchase one-way airline tickets. Id.

         On May 3, 2017, Mr. Jaquez was at the Orlando International Airport. Id. ¶ 13. Five days earlier, he booked a one-way flight from Orlando to Los Angeles. Id. After he went through security screening, two law enforcement officers approached Mr. Jaquez to inquire about his travel. Id. ¶ 14. He told them he was in Orlando visiting family. Id. ¶ 15. When asked if he was carrying any contraband or currency, Mr. Jaquez responded that he had no contraband, but was traveling with $50, 000 in cash. Id. ¶ 16. One of the law enforcement officers asked if he could verify the amount. Id. ¶ 17. Mr. Jaquez then opened his backpack and handed the officers two Crown Royal[2] cloth bags. Id. One of the bags contained three bundles of currency wrapped in rubber bands. Id. ¶ 18. The other bag contained three bank envelopes of currency. Id. ¶19. After examining the currency, an officer asked if he could search Mr. Jaquez's backpack. Id. ¶ 20. Mr. Jaquez did not consent and stated that he did not wish to answer any more questions about the money. Id.

         Individuals who handle controlled substances often get traces of the substances on their hands and clothing. Id. ¶ 22. These trace amounts can easily be spread to other items the individual touches, such as currency. Id. A positive alert to U.S. currency by a properly trained dog indicates that the currency has either been handled by someone who had trace amounts of a controlled ...


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