United States Settles Civil Forfeiture Action
U.S. Attorney Christopher "Kip" Crofts announced today that Scott Lewis of Englewood, Colorado, has agreed to forfeit $234,717 to the United States to settle a civil forfeiture action where the United States alleged that the money was drug money earned from the illegal sale of drugs or intended to illegally purchase drugs. As part of the settlement, Lewis did not dispute that the United States had reasonable cause to seize the money. The United States agreed to return $25,000 to Lewis. On November 28, 2016, United States District Court Judge Alan Johnson issued a judgement of forfeiture based on the settlement agreement.
The money and a Cessna airplane were seized from Lewis and Gilbert Wiles, Jr., in Cody, Wyoming, on February 28, 2014, following an investigation of suspected drug trafficking by the Cody Police Department with assistance from the Powell Police Department and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. The seizures were made under authority of search warrants issued by a Wyoming state court judge.
Following additional investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint on August 1, 2014. The complaint alleged that Wiles and Lewis had purchased the airplane in May 2013 for $130,000 in cash. On February 27, 2014, Lewis and Wiles landed the plane at Yellowstone Regional Airport. After landing, Lewis and Wiles covered the plane’s windows to conceal its interior, paid for fuel and other services with cash, and used a phony name at the airport and to check-in at a local Holiday Inn. As part of the police investigation, a drug detection canine alerted to the odor of controlled substances emanating from the plane. During the later search of the hotel room, police found a blue duffel bag containing $258,520 packaged in 12 vacuum-sealed bags. Officers also found $1,467 in cash in a jacket lying on a dresser. In addition to the money, officers found a number of fake driver’s licenses bearing Lewis’s picture. A review of Lewis’s criminal history showed that he had been convicted of a misdemeanor drug violation in November 2010 in California after Lewis was arrested outside a residence containing 185 pounds of marijuana and over $250,000 in cash. Lewis, who was represented by an attorney from California, responded to the civil forfeiture complaint by filing claims to the plane and money.
The federal investigation also revealed that the airplane had not been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration as required by law following its purchase by Wiles and Lewis in 2013. In a separate criminal prosecution, on January 14, 2016, the grand jury for the District of Wyoming indicted Lewis and Wiles for conspiracy and operating an unregistered aircraft in violation of federal law. Lewis and Wiles pled guilty to the felony crime of operating an unregistered aircraft and were sentenced to probation in June, 2016. As part of these sentences, the district court forfeited the Cessna airplane to the United States. The airplane was then dismissed from the civil forfeiture action.
The settlement agreement which resulted in the forfeiture of $234,717 in drug money ended the civil forfeiture.