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United States v. $14

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 25, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
$14, 000 in United States currency, $40, 000 in United States currency, Defendants.

ORDER

JAMES A. TEILBORG, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff United States of America's ("the Government") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24). The Court now rules on the motion.

I. Background

The Government has filed this civil forfeiture action in rem pursuant to 21 U.S.C. ยง 881(a)(6) to forfeit to its possession a total of $54, 000 in United States currency. (Doc. 1 at 1). Claimant Danny Murray claims an interest in the seized currency. (Doc. 10).

The facts concerning the seizure are undisputed.[1] In February 2012, Danny Murray and Jose Lopez traveled from Newark, New Jersey to Phoenix, Arizona with a final destination of Burbank, California. The pair traveled on round-trip airline tickets that Murray had purchased with his credit card three days earlier, at a cost of approximately $1, 500. Murray and Lopez were scheduled to return to Newark three days later. Neither of them carried checked baggage but both had carry-on bags. Officers with the Phoenix Police Department approached the pair and questioned them about their travel. Both Murray and Lopez consented to searches of their bags. Murray told the officers that Lopez was carrying money that belonged to Murray. Murray's bag contained $40, 000 in U.S. currency inside a dark-colored sock; Lopez's bag contained $14, 000 in U.S. currency in bundles of $5, 000, $5, 000, and $4, 000.[2]

When the officers asked Murray how much money he was carrying between the money on his person and on Lopez's person, Murray replied "[a]bout, I don't know, like 50." Murray asked the officers to include his name on the receipt for the money found in Lopez's possession. Murray stated that he did not know how much money he had given to Lopez to carry, but later testified at his deposition that during his and Lopez's car ride to the airport, he had taken two stacks of currency from his bag and gave them to Lopez. At his deposition, Murray also stated that he arranged on the same day of the trip for Lopez to carry the money and had not discussed this arrangement with Lopez during any of their earlier conversations about the trip.

Murray told the officers that he was going to use the money in his possession to purchase a video camera. When the officers asked Murray if he was an independent film maker, Murray replied that he was "breaking into the business." Murray used his cell phone to show the officers the $38, 000 camera package that he wanted to purchase from a website called "Red Cinema." The officers asked Murray how he had earned the money, and Murray replied that he had saved it from working in his construction business, D. Murray Construction, which he had owned since 2005.

The officers searched Murray's cell phone and discovered two photographs, one of which appeared to show a bag containing a white powder; the other photo appeared to show numerous bags containing white powder. The white powder in both photos had an appearance consistent with that of cocaine. Murray identified the photos as having been sent to him by a person identified as "J." Murray denied dealing drugs. The police then used a certified narcotics detector dog to examine the currency; the dog alerted to the $14, 000 in currency that had been in Lopez's possession but not to the $40, 000 that had been in Murray's possession.

Murray testified at his deposition that his construction business was a sole proprietorship and that he usually earned between $150 and $600 per job. He also testified $18, 000 of the money had been loaned to him by three different individuals; the remaining $36, 000 he had saved over five to six years. Murray testified that he had previously paid a $3, 100 deposit to the camera company and despite the seizure, he ultimately purchased the camera in October or November 2012 for $58, 000.

Murray testified that he had filed tax returns reporting $23, 355 of income in 2009, $18, 800 in 2010, and $53, 000 or $60, 000 in 2011. He also testified that he is the sole provider for his five children, his wife, and the mother of one of his children. The Government conducted an employment history search in forty-nine states for Murray's social security number and could find no record of employment. Murray's bank account records reflect ATM cash deposits totaling $19, 025 during the month of December 2011 and $21, 062 during the month of January 2012. These deposits were generally made in amounts between $150 and $1000 and there were often multiple deposits in a single day.

Murray's bank account statement shows two debit card purchases on December 20, 2011 for "Red Com And Red Digi" in the amounts of $150 and $3, 100.

Murray has also admitted to having previously been convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

II. Legal Standard

A. Summary ...


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