U.S. ATTORNEY PRESENTS $947,850 FROM SEIZED ASSETS TO BESSEMER POLICE DEPARTMENT
BESSEMER – U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance today formally presented $947,850 to the Bessemer Police Department under the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program. Vance and DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gregory Borland announced the award in a press conference with Bessemer Police Chief Nathaniel Rutledge Jr. at the Bessemer Police Operations Center.
The money comes to the department as the result of a traffic stop by Bessemer Police Officer Ernest Ryan on Interstate 59 South in June 2003. Officer Ryan stopped a vehicle for speeding. The car ultimately was searched after a Bessemer police drug-tracking dog alerted on the trunk of the car.
The search recovered $1,185,135 in cash packed in bundles in a suitcase and several bags. The cash bundles were held with rubber bands and some were wrapped in clear plastic. Investigation of documents found in the car linked the driver to a man who recently had been indicted for money laundering as part of a drug-trafficking investigation in another district.
The driver of the car, Jose De Jesus Franco Cazarez, initially claimed that only a small amount of the money, $8,000 in a valise on the front seat, was his. He signed a form at the scene waiving his claim to the bundles of money found in the car. DEA initiated an administrative forfeiture proceeding against the money, but Cazarez then claimed the entire sum.
The government followed, filing a forfeiture claim in federal court in Birmingham on Nov. 14, 2003. Cazarez challenged the forfeiture, arguing the money was unlawfully seized.
In the court proceedings that followed, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn ruled in the government’s favor and ordered the $1,185,135 forfeited in September 2006. Cazarez appealed that decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld Judge Blackburn’s ruling in October 2008.
The Justice Department recently approved the award to the Bessemer Police Department. Under the department’s Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing Program, state and local law enforcement agencies are eligible to receive up to 80 percent of forfeited proceeds. Bessemer is receiving the full 80 percent of the $1,185,135.
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The Office of U.S. Attorney
Joyce White Vance
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