Civil Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Troopers Steal $100,000 in Poker Winnings From Two Players Driving Through the State


Des Moines Register

The Des Moines Register highlights an Iowa forfeiture case, the subject of a federal lawsuit filed this week, in which state troopers took $100,000 in winnings from two California poker players traveling through the state on their way back from a World Series of Poker event in Joliet, Illinois. The case illustrates several of the themes I discussed in a recent column explaining how cops became highway robbers:

Cops can always find an excuse to stop you. On the morning of April 15, 2013, Trooper Justin Simmons, who is part of an "interdiction team" that looks for contraband and money to seize, pulled over William Davis and John Newmer­zhycky, who were traveling west on Interstate 80 in a rental car, a red Nissan Altima. Simmons later said he had received a vague tip from "an Illinois law enforcement officer" to be on the lookout for a red car, but he did not know why. Obviously that did not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion, which Simmons needed to stop the car. So instead he claimed that he pulled Davis and Newmer­zhycky over because Newmer­zhycky, who was driving, failed to signal as he passed a black SUV. But as can be seen in the video recorded by Simmons' dashcam (starting around the 00:28 mark), Newmer­zhycky did signal. In the absence of such contrary evidence, cops are free to invent minor traffic infractions to justify a stop they want to conduct for other reasons. Although it does not condone such prevarication, the Supreme Court has said any valid legal reason makes a stop constitutional, even if it's a pretext for a more ambitious investigation. The Register reports that its "review of 22,000 warnings and citations given by the [interdiction] teams from 2008 to 2012 showed that 86 percent went to non-Iowans." Because Iowans are much better drivers, of course.

Cops can extend a traffic stop after issuing a citation or a warning, provided the motorist "consents." Around the 1:27 mark in the video at the top of the Register's story, after Simmons has ostensibly concluded his business and sent Newmerzhycky on his way, he pulls a Columbo, engaging Newmerzhycky in a conversation-cum-interrogation about the real object of the stop. "Hey, John?" he says as Newmerzhycky starts returning to his car. "Do you have time for a couple of questions? Do you have something illegal in the car?" Things quickly go downhill from there. Newmerzhycky denies having drugs or large amounts of cash. Simmons asks for permission to search the car. Newmerzhycky says no. Simmons asks if it's OK to bring a police dog by for a sniff. "I'd prefer to be on my way," Newmerzhycky says. Simmons asks again. "Do I have the right to say no to that?" Newmerzhycky asks. He does, since he is officially free to go at this point. Simmons answers the legal question honestly, and Newmerzhycky reiterates his desire to be on his way.

A dog sniff is not a search, but it can justify a search. Refusing to take no for an answer, Simmons says Newmerzhycky seems nervous (who wouldn't be in these circumstances?), and he uses that observation as justification for calling Trooper Eric VanderWiel, a K-9 officer with a drug-detecting dog. That move is suspect, since the Supreme Court has suggested that police may not forcibly extend a routine traffic stop merely to wait for a drug-sniffing dog. At the same time, the Court says an olfactory inspection by a canine is not a search and can be conducted at will, without any evidence of criminal activity, provided a traffic stop is not "unnecessarily prolonged." VanderWiel's dog supposedly alerted to the back of the car, at a point where the dog was conveniently hidden from the dashcam. In practice, such an assertion gives cops a license to search any car they want, since "a court can presume" a police dog's alert by itself provides probable cause unless the defendant proves the animal is unreliable.

Cash is inherently suspicious. The troopers found $85,000 inside Davis' locked briefcase, plus another $15,000 in Newmerzhycky's computer bag, where they also found a grinder with bits of marijuana in it, which resulted in a citation for possession of drug paraphernalia—the only Iowa charge brought against either man. (Both bags were in the trunk, so maybe the dog really did smell contraband—or maybe she is trained to smell cash.) Naturally, Newmerzhycky's denial that he was carrying a lot of currency counted as evidence that he was up to no good, although it is not hard to see why an innocent person might lie in this situation, especially given how things turned out. But the truth is that police automatically assume large sums of cash must be related to drug trafficking or other criminal activity. They have a strong incentive to do so, since they get to keep the money. In Iowa law enforcement agencies receive 100 percent of the proceeds from civil forfeitures they initiate. From 2011 through 2013, the Register reports, Iowa's interdiction teams seized about $7 million in cash from motorists.

"There is absolutely nothing illegal or uncommon about people driving through the United States with out-of-state plates…and carrying amounts of cash," the lawyer who filed Davis and Newmerzhycky's lawsuit tells the Register. "There's nothing illegal about carrying cash, and yet law enforcement begins to treat individuals who are carrying cash as if they are criminals." Ultimately the state agreed to return $90,000 of the two men's money, a third of which was consumed by legal fees.

That was not the end of their trouble. "Both of their California homes were searched the next day by law enforcement based on a tip from an Iowa agent," the Register notes. Although both men have state-issued cards identifying them as patients allowed to use cannabis for symptom relief, the paper says, they still faced "felony drug charges" because of the marijuana found in their homes. According to Davis and Newmerzhycky's California lawyer, prosecutors dropped those charges after watching the video of the traffic stop.  

In their lawsuit, Davis and Newmerzhycky argue that the stop, the search, and the seizure were unconstitutional. They want the rest of their money back, plus compensation for their ensuing troubles, including a stroke that Newmerzhycky attributes to the stress caused by the criminal charges.

[Thanks to Joe Kristan for the tip.]

NEXT: Arizona's Sheriff Joe Ordered, Again, to Improve His Abusive Jails

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  1. Obviously that did not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion,

    Oh, come on. That’s good enough for Scalia.

    1. “Look, the trooper didn’t beat it out of them with a rubber hose – that’s New Professionalism!”

    2. Let them know what you think about their behavior:

    3. We decided to beat this particular individual until we realized he had some money we could take.
      This particular individual began acting in a suspicious manner so we decided to fuck with him for a while until we deemed his nervous behavior reason enough to sick the dogs on him.
      Then we rubbed his face on the asphalt and laughed and laughed afterwards while blocking traffic.
      Then the judge let us off based on protecting the sacrosanct praise all have to attribute to public servants like they were forced into this line of work.
      Then, of course, we tried to steal as much of their money as possible because before we are cops working in a dangerous field, we are first and foremost idiot bureaucrats who hate anyone with money.

  2. Get. Out. Of. This. Country. As. Soon. As. You. Can.

    1. And go where? Some place where the police are less corrupt?

      1. Watersomalia, the libertopia of the oceans, as portrayed in the brilliant (and prescient) movie Waterworld.

        1. I’m in.

          Adios, cousins!

    2. Yeah where the corruption is more honest. They beat the money out of you.

  3. Those cops should have their balls chopped off with a dull, rusty axe.

    1. Or you just pay them a good ole-fashioned bribe, whereupon you get to keep the rest of your money, unlike here.

  4. I remember one time I had to get a $2,000 postal money order to pay for a computer I was buying in the days before PayPal, which required withdraw the money from the bank and then driving over to the post office. It was maybe a 10 minute drive, and I was a nervous the whole time that I was going to get robbed.

    I don’t think I could mentally handle having $100,000 in the trunk of my car. I’d have an anxiety attack or something.

    1. I’m with you. I once had to carry $6,000 (receipts from a charity event) through a sketchy neighborhood in Baltimore. That was probably the most nervous I have ever been when out in public.

      1. You had more to worry about from the Baltimore police than you had with the residents.

  5. I’m a member of the Poker Player’s Alliance and do all I can to fight for liberty for Poker Players. The Man been fucking with us way too long. Heck my state makes it a C feline merely to play online poker

    As the article points out, under FEDERAL case law, pretext stops are legal.

    Vote with your feet and move to a jurisdiction that places a higher respect on liberty and privacy, such as my state, where pretext stops VIOLATE state const. Law (see Ladson)

    1. These seizures are abominations. A profit motive erodes the system, whether it’s civil forfeiture or for profit prisons

      Cash should not be a cause for seizure and the burden should be on the state to prove it has been illicitly gained whereas the burden is on the respondent to prove it has not been

      In a case where for example you find a wad of cash along with probable cause of a crime like trafficking then I would agree that a seizure may be valid.

      But cases where Cash is seized just because a person can’t prove it’s been licitly gained is a violation of civil rights plain and simple.

      Consider joining the poker players alliance and fighting for poker rights

      Poker is such an intrinsic part of American culture and such a great game

      Before my state made it a C felony I used to love playing it since it was both entertaining mentally stimulating and profitable and that’s an awesome combination
      The state Gave bogus reasons to justify their making it a C felony and even admitted they would never intend to enforce the law against a player but it was essentially a scare tactic

      Last I checked I could not find a single case of a person being tried for a violation of this law passed years ago

      1. It’s a power-play by the state to keep people from playing a two dollar sit and go in their house in their underwear where the state gets no tax revenue versus a casino where they do

        The same state that thinks it’s within state authority and okay to issue lottery tickets says it’s not okay to play poker in your own home online

        In general my state is much better than others in the civil rights freedoms and libertarian principles in general but this is a major exception

        1. You’re rambling like a bag lady again but your overall post is actually quite good.

          1. Who’s rambling? Those blank spaces above your post?

      2. I see you’re still capitalizing but not using punctuation. Do you still claim to be using speech to text programs?

        But good to have you back. Tony has been wearing thin.

    2. Guess you’re back now that you’re done clocking all that OT:…..rtxml.html

      Heroes. Every. Fucking. One. Of. Them.

  6. Wait, people intentionally went to Joliet for fun? That strikes me as prima facie evidence of, well, something.

    1. They weren’t there for the Joliet. They were there for the gambling. It’s the same reason people go to Reno or Atlantic City.

      1. What’s next, a vacation in Gary? A tour of Illinois Nazi landmarks?

      2. Or as we say around here, “the Joilet”.

  7. I don’t have time to go.into the details but earlier this year I was pulled over by Ohio state troopers on a flimsy, completely invented minor traffic violation. They actually went to great lengths to deny, without my saying anything, that their stopping me had anything to do with my long hair and hoodie.

    They pulled me out of the car and accused me of smoking marijuana (which I have actually never done) and made me do a field sobriety test because I had “bloodshot eyes.” I frequently have bloodshot eyes because I wear contact lenses, and on this particular day, was returning from working in a dusty environment. My co-worker in the rental car we were sharing was terrified, as two other officers stood menacingly watching him, hands on their guns while two attempted to question me.

  8. VanderWiel’s dog supposedly alerted to the back of the car, at a point where the dog was conveniently hidden from the dashcam.

    Bodycams for K9s. No search sniffing without.

    1. Indeed, any Drug Dog would immediately alert on me. Not for drugs, but for the female dogs that reside in my home. Their pheromones permeate my home, possessions, and auto.

      SEX beats DRUGS every time, even for police dogs!

      PS. Unlike former President Clinton & current President Obama, I DIDN’T INHALE!

  9. Cameras clear a good officer when idiot motorist makes bogus complaint
    [Open in new window]

    Most likely it will help convict her if she is guilty as is so often the case when there is no camera evidence the guilty party can get away with it due to lack of evidence

    ‘When she filed her complaint on July 11, Dunson was accompanied by members of the Citizens for Police Review, a police watchdog group of citizens. Umar Tate, president of the group, said the outcome of Dunson’s complaint was less important than the fact she filed it. ‘

    Hey Tate, the video shows, as they usually do that she was full of shit and it’s not important that people file false complaints and lie about how officers are using force dip shit

    It’s called bearing false witness and it’s an abomination

    Booya body cameras!!!

    1. Booya body cameras over which officers have full discretion as to whether recordings ever see the light of day!!!

  10. Legalize marijuana nationwide and I’m willing to wager 65% of dictatorial policing will be nipped right in the ass.

    These guys were watched from the minute they made a huge wad of cash in that casino or gaming hall. Casinos, bars, and anywhere ‘sin’ occurs even legally is an absolute haven for narcs. Someone in this case KNEW without a shadow of a doubt these guys enjoyed a bit of cannabis. Whether one of the players teasingly tipped off a ‘drunk’ patron (narc) that he did trees or the cops were actually watching his purchases through a Fusion center or using interception tech to read his cell messages.

    The line extended directly from something these guys did wrong (smoking trees) right into the hands of rank street robbers who use drugs as a crutch to enrich themselves. The system is truly despicable.

    1. Don’t stop with marijuana.

      1. Well, of course, ninja.

        1. Legalize medicinal LSD!!!!!

  11. The important thing to remember when a cop pulls you over is that he is not your friend. Anything he says or does is said or done with the intention of doing you harm. Other than simple identification, the only correct response to a question is to say politely, “I do not want to talk about that. I just want to be on my way. May I leave now, officer?” It is always a mistake to lie.

    1. Unless you’re in Philly, in which case you should ask if the officer will at least wear a rubber while he rapes you.

  12. Is it possible that cops have actually exceeded the level of dishonesty and mendacity normally seen in politicians?

  13. So the cops watch the World Series of Poker on ESPN, then go hunting for the winners in order to steal their money. Welcome to Thugocracy.

  14. Keep digging your graves, Officers, keep digging your graves.

    1. No shit. Consider the fact that they drive around in easily recognized vehicles, wear distinctive clothing, and have predictable responses to a wide range of standard scenarios, they are in a uniquely vulnerable position and as such should be more contemplative of the ramifications to their own safety from these types of behaviors. Eventually, this most certainly will come back to haunt each and every one of them.

  15. We need to ask some russians how this compares to their corrupt cops. Does anyone know a russian?

  16. Moral of the story: travel with big bucks, hire an ex-cop as protection. We routinely hauled several 100’s of thousands in cash after a NASCAR or IndyCar event. Hired a retired NYPD detective to ride with us.

  17. When are people going to learn to never answer questions from cops.

    1. When are people going to learn that you cannot prohibit non-violent voluntary adult behavior.
      When will they learn that no amount of force will ever convince someone that your way if the right way.
      and finally
      When will they learn that government is a disease masquerading as its own cure.

      I believe in a voluntary society

  18. One can only pray that karma will befall all involved in these thefts and cheer when it does.

  19. Almost 90% of the cash money in circulation shows residue of drugs on it; Particularly cocaine. So where a drug dog is brought in and there is a large amount of cash there is a very high probability that he will alert as if there are drugs. This is all legalized thievery on the part of law enforcement. End the war on drugs or eventually this war will get hot.

    1. Drug contamination of currency also occurs in bank money counting and sorting machines! Check any bank’s teller cash drawer for $100, $50, & $20 bills & you will get a positive drug signal!

  20. “..the Supreme Court has said police may not forcibly extend a routine traffic stop merely to wait for a drug-sniffing dog.”

    That’s not exactly my reading of Caballes, nor is it applied that way. They can call for a dog, during a stop, but it can’t unreasonably delay the stop. What is unreasonable is up to the state, but I’ve seen cases where even a 45 minute wait isn’t considered unreasonable by the courts.

  21. So, lets see. $100G! How about the following prudent actions:

    1) Go to a bank & purchase a Cashiers Check. Then (registered) mail it to your home address.
    2) Have the money wired to your home bank/checking account.


    I have carried up to $500 while travelling for either business, or vacation. I also have had documentation with me as to how I acquired the money (bank/checking account withdrawal slip & etc.) On a 2 week business trip, or vacation, this is not an unreasonable amount of cash to carry. Many places do not take CCs for small purchases (especially overseas) and ready cash makes small purchases go *much* more quickly.


    Sad to say, those folks were set up & robbed (if the story of the winnings proves true) by statute. It gets worse! The winnings are subject to Federal & State Income Tax (no matter that it was heisted by the police)! So, they are doubly screwed.

    1. For 1 the postal inspector gets it and you eat a “structuring” charge.

      For 2 your bank files a “suspicious activity report” and you may end up eating a “structuring” charge.

      Having the documentation you mention doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. That might shift the cost/benefit analysis of the police in deciding whether to rob you. i.e. this guy is already thinking about litigation, etc.

  22. Obviously “sovereign immunity,” blah blah blah. But at some point someone needs to start filing civil RICO cases against these “policing for cash” operations.

    Certainly they will get tossed out of court in all but the utterly most egregious cases (i.e. Tenaha) but if that could be made enough of a thing then the cash incentive for this civil forfeiture crap would theoretically diminish.

    Of course all that takes are a lot of independently wealthy linertarian trial attorneys willing to eat the time and expenses required to initiate such litigation. Good luck with that, of course. But it would be nice.

  23. RE: $100k World Series of Poker Theft

    Whoa there! Illinois? You don’t suppose the ‘tip’ might have come from Black Asphalt’s own Deputy Hain from Kain County Ill? I wonder if any off duty police were providing security for the World Series of Poker event (Joliet, Illinois) the two men attended.

    Nawhhh? that would never happen.

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