War on Drugs

Watch Nevada Highway Patrol Officers Seize a Veteran's Life Savings Through Asset Forfeiture

The officers admit there's nothing illegal about carrying large amounts of cash, then take almost $90,000 from him anyway.

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"I just want to tell you Officer Brown, you're taking money out of my kids' mouths," Stephen Lara said as Nevada Highway Patrol officers confiscated his life savings.

Police pulled over Lara near Reno on February 19. After he consented to a search, the officers discovered nearly $90,000 in bundled cash in Lara's backpack. Although Lara was not arrested or charged with a crime, the officers claimed the money was drug trafficking proceeds and seized through a practice known as civil asset forfeiture.

The government has since agreed to return Lara's money, and on Tuesday, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, released body camera footage of the February 19 traffic stop, calling it a "rare glimpse into an abuse of power that thousands of innocent Americans experience each year."

The Washington Post first reported in September on Lara's case after the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit on Lara's behalf against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), where his money had been sitting for more than six months since that traffic stop.

"I left there confused. I left there angry," Lara told the Post. "And I could not believe that I had just been literally robbed on the side of the road by people with badges and guns."

A Nevada Highway Patrol stopped Lara over near Reno for following too close to a semi-truck and traveling under the speed limit. Lara, a Marine combat veteran, was driving from Texas to California to visit his two daughters for the weekend, he said.

After asking Lara several questions about his background, the officer almost sheepishly explained that he was also doing drug interdiction work and asked Lara if he had any guns, drugs, or cash in his car. 

Lara admitted he had cash. A lot of it.

"I don't trust banks, so I keep my own money," Lara responded when asked why. He then gave the officer permission to search his car.

On paper, Lara fit the profile of a trafficker. He was driving a rental car for a short-turnaround, long-distance trip with a huge amount of cash, $87,000 in fact. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity without charging the owner with a crime. Law enforcement groups say civil forfeiture is vital for drug interdiction because it allows them to target traffickers' illicit proceeds.

But there's also nothing illegal about traveling domestically with large amounts of cash, a fact the officer acknowledges.

"So, as you know, right—I'm a vet, he's a vet, you're a vet—it's not illegal to carry currency or have currency," the officer says. "It does make us ask questions about why someone has $100,000. I can understand why someone doesn't trust banks in this day and age."

"I have nothing to hide from you," Lara responded. In fact, he had years of bank receipts documenting cash withdrawals.

With no probable cause to seize the cash, a Nevada Highway Patrol sergeant who arrived on the scene ordered a drug-sniffing dog to be brought in. The dog alerted on the cash, and the officers announced that they would be seizing it as probable drug proceeds.

Civil liberties organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Institute for Justice say that cases like Lara's show how police use civil forfeiture to seize property on flimsy suspicions. The owners, who are never charged with a crime, then bear the burden of going to court to prove their innocence, or rather the innocence of their property, to be precise.

"Carrying around cash is not a crime," Wesley Hottot, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, said in a press release. "Stephen did nothing wrong. He isn't charged with any crime and the government isn't even willing to defend this seizure in court. Innocent people shouldn't lose their property like this. 

Around 35 states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform over the past decade based on these concerns. Four states—Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Maine—have abolished civil forfeiture entirely and now require a conviction before property can be forfeited.

The reason Lara sued the DEA is because of a wrinkle in forfeiture laws. The DEA works with state and local police on drug interdiction efforts, and federal law enforcement can "adopt" forfeiture cases from them, moving the cases to federal court. In return, the local police department gets a cut of the forfeiture proceeds, up to 80 percent.

While the Nevada Highway Patrol officers were debating what to do with Lara's cash, one of them was on the phone with a DEA agent.

Opponents of asset forfeiture say such adoptions are a loophole that allows state and local police to sidestep stricter state laws and requirements for civil forfeiture. The Institute for Justice estimates that the Nevada Highway Patrol stood to gain $70,000 from the federal forfeiture of Lara's cash.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder restricted when federal law enforcement could adopt local forfeiture cases in 2015, but in 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded those rules.

After about an hour and a half after Lara was first pulled over, the officers left him on the side of the road with a receipt of seizure and a number for a DEA agent.

"That money I have in my jacket is only a few dollars," Lara told them. "I have no money to pay for my kids' meals, my hotel, or even to get that car back to Texas."

The Institute for Justice says Lara had to get his brother to wire him money so he could continue his trip.

It was only after Lara sued the DEA for blowing its deadline to either give him his cash back or file a forfeiture case against it in federal court, and only after The Washington Post post reported on his case, that the government agreed to return his money. Lara is still pursuing lawsuits against the DEA and the Nevada Highway Patrol.

"I find it even more concerning that if this could happen to me, as a combat veteran who served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, this could happen to anybody," Lara says in the Institute for Justice video.

The Nevada Highway Patrol did not immediately return a request for comment.

NEXT: Without Promising Alternatives to the 'Viability' Rule, the Supreme Court Seems Inclined to Ditch Its Abortion Precedents

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  1. Highwaymen.

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    2. Highwaymen indeed. Stand and deliver.

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      2. Just like in 1868... when unreconstructed rebs couldn't even vote in retaliation.

    3. “… robbed on the side of the road by people with badges and guns."
      Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

    4. Hired by "elected" Kleptocracy politicians.

  2. "After he consented to a search"

    I was going to say, "why would he do that?" - but refusing might simply mean they keep him there until they find a rubber-stamp judge to give them the needed warrant.

    1. He knew he had committed no crime and he trusted the system.

      Stupid, stupid man.

      Everyone is guilty of something, and the system is run by people who make Ken's devilish progressives look like saints.

      1. the system is run by people who make Ken's devilish progressives look like saints.

        Yeah the state of Nevada's civil asset forfeiture laws were obviously passed by that dastardly Republican governor, Republican legislature and Republican attorney general. Oh wait, Nevada is a single party solid-blue all-Democrat fuck hole. Too bad they skipped "how to use a search engine" along with "basic text markup" in your advanced PhD level coursework in computer engineering.

        But hey, in a way this Lara fella is pretty lucky. The cops had all of the justification they needed to shoot him in the face according to the sarcasmic school of con law, and all they did was steal his entire life savings. It's a good thing this proves that Democrats are not responsible for anything and those evil 'publicans are the real baddies.

        I'd say you're a fucking joke, but jokes are sometimes funny.

        1. The state I live in is run by Democrats, and they just abolished asset forfeiture.

          Figure that one out.

          1. They only ended civil asset forfeiture, not criminal asset forfeiture. But to be fair, expecting you to know what's going on in your own state is like asking a fish to recite Shakespeare.

            The state of Nevada, which is the topic of this article and subsequent thread, is controlled by Democrats, contrary to the idiotic bullshit you tried to spew. Figure that out.

            1. Criminal asset forfeiture requires a conviction, it is nothing like what's going on in this story.

              And state law also has little to do with it, as it's ultimately done under federal law, through the DEA. It would take a very well crafted law to prohibit state law enforcement from performing civil asset forfeiture for the feds without also hampering their ability to work with the feds on things they should work together on.

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            2. Republican and Democrat states all do this and you know it. They're equal in being crooks over asset forfeiture.

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        2. The cops had all of the justification they needed to shoot him in the face according to the sarcasmic school of con law

          "Failure to obey" justifies deadly force because it is a threat to the officer's life. This guy was totally cooperative, so no the cops would not have been justified in shooting him in the face.

          Get a clue.

          1. "Failure to obey" justifies deadly force because it is a threat to the officer's life.

            Lmfao. The officer would have to actually issue an order instead of cowering like a pussy faggot bitch behind a bookcase and then leaping out to plug an obviously unarmed woman in the face despite 4 SWAT officers with selective-fire M4 rifles pointed at her back less than 10 feet away in order for there to have been any "failure to obey". But let's stretch your logic alllllllll the way to its conclusion: the FBI would have been fully within its right to open fire on every single person who barricaded the doors of the courthouse in Oregon and then tried to burn all of the people trapped inside, right? Oh wait, you whined like a little bitch that uniformed US Marshals arresting those people was literal Nazism.

            It's almost like you're a disgusting little bloodthirsty Marxist faggot who hasn't got the nut in his sack to live out any of his power fantasies because he's an impotent, stupid, low-IQ little pussy bitch. But just for the record, for the 150th time or so, any time you want to spit that cop jizz out of your mouth and run it in my presence I'll be happy to dispossess you of your teeth, face, and at least a third of your internal organs you simpering little bootlicking faggot bitch. Seriously. Fuck around. Find out. Please, fucking please, FUCKING PLEASE.

            1. Do you need a hug?

            2. Don't hold back my brother.

          2. "Failure to obey" justifies deadly force

            Wow. You bootlicking piece of shit.

            -jcr

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    3. By not consenting, he would have forced the officers to either allow him to go on his way without a search or fabricate probable cause for a search. It's clear they had none based upon the final outcome (return of his money) and if a judge had failed to do his/her job by rubber stamping a warrant instead of making a proper probable cause determination than the basis of the search and seizure would have been subject to post-stop judicial review and given him a stronger legal footing for a lawsuit after the fact.

      He didn't do himself any favors by consenting and certainly didn't save himself any time in the long run (or short run for that matter). It's encounters like this that should reinforce the need to not consent to answering questions or allowing searches by 'law enforcement' officers.

  3. Well he can't sue for lost interest as no one's paying interest and thanks to FJB his 90 grand is now worth $84600.00

    1. Not true. He can sue for damages. He can (and should) also file Federal criminal charges against the officer and EVERY elected official who voted for the act "legalizing" this crime for violating his Constitutional rights.

      Until people start fighting back and put these petty tyrants in jail

  4. I'd think anyone who is that suspicious of banks would be equally suspicious of any cop who asked permission to search his car or answer any questions about whether he had cash or drugs. Guess he never heard of the Fifth Amendment. Or the FYTW Amendment.

    1. In the military, you can GENERALLY trust your superior officers, who (unless you are clearly a Defiant One or a goof-off) will usually support you. Officers who regularly, senselessly fuck over their troops do NOT gain career advancements!

      So vet-dude here learned the HARD way that... Bastard cops do NOT give ONE tiny shit about you! Their career, unlike that of military officers, DEPENDS on FUCKING YOU OVER rather than supporting you in ANY way! (Vet-dude trusted "authoritah"... BAD move in civilian life! Even IF you have broken NO laws!)

      1. In which imaginary branch of the imaginary service did you serve, sarcasmic? Were you highly placed in the 101st Delta SEAL MARSOC Ranger detachment like cytotoxic?

        1. I served, punk! The rest is my business! I treasure my anonymity, because I don't want evil, cowardly assholes like you or Nadless Nardless firebombing my house in the middle of the night!

          Did YOU serve, spineless one? And who do you think you're persuading of anything, other than the fact that you are an evil, trolling asshole?

          Do you recall the awesome enchanter named “Tim”, in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”? The one who could “summon fire without flint or tinder”? Well, you remind me of Tim… You are an enchanter who can summon persuasion without facts or logic!

          So I discussed your awesome talents with some dear personal friends on the Reason staff… Accordingly…

          Reason staff has asked me to convey the following message to you:

          Hi Fantastically Talented Author:

          Obviously, you are a silver-tongued orator, and you also know how to translate your spectacular talents to the written word! We at Reason have need for writers like you, who have near-magical persuasive powers, without having to write at great, tedious length, or resorting to boring facts and citations.

          At Reason, we pay above-market-band salaries to permanent staff, or above-market-band per-word-based fees to freelancers, at your choice. To both permanent staff, and to free-lancers, we provide excellent health, dental, and vision benefits. We also provide FREE unlimited access to nubile young groupies, although we do firmly stipulate that persuasion, not coercion, MUST be applied when taking advantage of said nubile young groupies.

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          Thank You! -Reason Staff

          1. Even better... 😀

        2. You sound jealous.

      2. In the military, you can GENERALLY trust your superior officers,

        You're a couple of decades out of date on that one.

        -jcr

    2. You quoted the correct amendment, nice!

      __________

      Asset Forfeiture is in total violation of the Fifth Amendment which states that the government cannot take property without due process, ever.

      Most think that robbing someone under the color law this way is a violation of the Fourth Amendment—it’s not. The Fourth was 100% gutted the moment they saddled it with the ‘unreasonable’ clause. Subjectivity is anathema to the entire point and purpose of a right.

      If the lawyers had challenged Asset Forfeiture on Fifth Amendment grounds instead of Fourth from the outset, a strong case can be made that Asset Forfeiture as law would likely have never made it very far passed the first government theft.

      Hey, Law Enforcement Officers: when you engage in Asset Forfeiture you are breaking your oath to defend and uphold the constitution. You are also stealing from a fellow human being, and what's worse, you are stealing under the color of law, which makes you lower and more base than the criminals you are fighting.

  5. No dogs were shot. Police reform works!

  6. At some point you're just going to have to accept that nobody gives a shit about the law any more and it's just every man for himself.

    1. That is becoming a straight-up legit concern.

    2. Any man who refuses to involve himself in politics is doomed to be ruled by his inferiors.

  7. Fuck the police (or at least, these police).
    Fuck BLM, too.
    Fuck the DEA and the War on Drugs.
    Fuck anyone who thinks dogs provide legal evidence.
    Fuck pretty much anybody who want to tell others what to do.

    1. Fuck anybody who wants to be told what to do.

      1. Fuck Joe Biden

        1. Also fuck Donald Trump

    2. Fuck the police (or at least, these police).

      Nope Fuck them all. Every last one. If they aren't actively participating in this shit they're doing their bullshit "thin blue line" circle jerk and turning a blind eye. Fuck collaborators. I wouldn't be the slightest bit disappointed to see every single limp dick faggot cocksucking D-average-high-school-drop-out fatass wannabe Army Of One who was too fat and stupid to even get recruited as cannon fodder get plugged in the street. I wish being a cop was as dangerous as these deranged thugs pretend it is. It should be. You should see news stories about cops getting killed every fucking night on your local, regional, and national news.

  8. WTF is Jen Psaki talking about that we need more than 20% of the people to get vaccinated before she can stop shitting her pants over covid?

    1. Psaki psays pshots pstop psuper pspreaders

      1. Tokyo Rose IS a "super spreader."

  9. Hi cj,
    Why do you think the aclu is a civil rights organization?

    1. They care about the same subset of civil rights that Reason/Cato/Niskanen does: weed, mexicans and ass sex.

      1. You forgot Twitter's first amendment rights.

  10. Stephen did do something wrong, he answered questions and let them search his car.

    1. Police dogs are portable probable cause generators, this would have happened regardless, except they also probably would have beaten the fuck out of him if he'd pressed the issue.

      1. They dog probably just triggered on money lol.

        1. Police dogs alert to avoid being jerked, kicked or beaten by cops... just like other victims obey in hopes of not getting shot.

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  13. Thieving scumbags.

    -jcr

  14. Civil Asset Forfeiture is a policy promoted by Joe Biden in the 1980s, based on the incredibly stupid rationale that it would never be used against anyone who wasn't a drug dealer. Yes, Biden really is that stupid! Or he's that dishonest! It's hard to tell which. Biden's promotion of this abomination is described in detail at https://fee.org/articles/how-a-young-joe-biden-became-the-architect-of-the-governments-asset-forfeiture-program/ .

    1. If you keep posting these kinds of facts you're going to give sarcasmic a major sad. Which means he's going to drink all day (what was a given) and post sobbing, embarrassing personal confessions and then claim he was hacked.

    2. It has been promoted by almost all politicians for a long but okay.

    3. Didn't stop Reason writers from voting for him and they're all self described libertarians. One of the reasons I don't call myself libertarian anymore.

    4. The 1987 Crash that occurred when Biden's law took effect was a reaction to the Depression investors knew it would cause. From 1989 through 1990 hyperinflation wrecked economies in South America. Kleptocracy narcs invaded and confiscated rattle ranches, farms, homes, office buildings, aircraft, automobiles and truckloads of cash. Several nations resembled East Germany and Poland after Soviet looting.

  15. CJ...how is your distant relation Eric doing these days? Yeah, that chump.

  16. Yes, he did something wrong. He consented to a search.

    1. Yeah they still would have taken the money though for "driving suspiciously". They ask all those questions so they can get you caught up in a lie. Be courteous but stubborn, Just tell them you don't want to talk and you will be happy to show your driver's license and registration and even insurance. Otherwise you don't have to answer any questions.

      1. Never ever consent to a search, make them work for it.

    2. The driver consented to letting the cop toss the entire contents of the car into a ditch, and then either plant fake evidence or drive off leaving the mess to clean up. That is what happens when you waive rights and "consent to a search."

  17. Civil forfeiture is, was, and always will be egregiously unconstitutional. Every person victimized by this process should file criminal charges for violations of their Constitutional rights until these monsters are all rotting in jail.

    1. Civil Asset Forfeiture only makes sense if the assets in question have no identifiable owner. (Which is the context it arose in - abandoned smuggled goods found at sea). Owned assets should require proceedings against the owner.

    2. So how to accomplish that now that the LNC puts communist anarchists on the ticket with a platform to import terrorists uninspected?

  18. I was profiled by a NY sTate trooper. On the way to feed friends who were moving. . Driving slowly at the end of a line of cars in a brand new van. His opening comment was “ I smell something. What do I smell?” My Brother in law is a DA so I know what could happen. But since all we had was several roasted chickens from Costco, a pot of Chili and some Costco Apple pies I let the officer have a look.
    I decided early on not to make fun of the lavender trim on his uniform.he did submit and allow us to go unharmed. They make it not scary, but it is. Sort of like we’re from the Government and we’re here to help.

  19. I suspect that one of the reasons why they continue to do this is the ongoing assault on the ownership of hard currency and the desire to push everyone into digital, trackable and most importantly, taxable, money. This is why they attack crypto and having large amounts of cash. I keep large amounts of cash in my house for emergencies. The same justification for taking large amounts of cash would apply across the board then, not just while traveling in a vehicle or on the interstates. This behavior is downright criminal.

    1. They definitely want to keep you in the banking system so they can track and document every move to look for pattern and feed into into their minority report algorithms.

    2. Then again, all get the Kleptocracy 96% voted for.

  20. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to US currency? File that under 'water is wet'. I can't believe anyone thinks that is evidence of anything.

    1. Dey don' need no steenkin ebidence, gringo!
      I like yew ess dollars ai lov dem ai do, geeb me yew ess dollars I'll get dem from you!

  21. Just another reason people have lost all trust in government, law enforcement, the judiciary, or the media at ANY level. Can't believe what they say, can't trust them, no confidence in them.

    1. So why do 94% vote for the looter Kleptocracy?

  22. Who pushes to create and keep these laws in effect?
    The Fraternal Order of Police.
    They maintain an active lobby in DC that supports/defends civil asset forfeiture laws, fights the creation of civilian review boards, and supports/opposes numerous other laws that benefit police at the expense of the People. There is something very wrong with an organization that supports the predation of the People by government operatives who are employed by the People to support the People.

    1. Maybe cowardly or gullible voters and Nixon-bought media?

  23. Asset Forfeiture is in total violation of the Fifth Amendment which states that the government cannot take property without due process, ever.

    Most think that robbing someone under the color law this way is a violation of the Fourth Amendment—it’s not. The Fourth was 100% gutted the moment they saddled it with the ‘unreasonable’ clause. Subjectivity is anathema to the entire point and purpose of a right.

    If the lawyers had challenged Asset Forfeiture on Fifth Amendment grounds instead of Fourth from the outset, a strong case can be made that Asset Forfeiture as law would likely have never made it very far passed the first government theft.

    Hey, Law Enforcement Officers: when you engage in Asset Forfeiture you are breaking your oath to defend and uphold the constitution. You are also stealing from a fellow human being, and what's worse, you are stealing under the color of law, which makes you lower and more base than the criminals you are fighting.

  24. Carrying what the government itself calls legal tender makes you a criminal.

  25. “The owners, who are never charged with a crime. . . “

    Really, Reason? Never. Like never ever? Like nobody who has money seized for civil forfeiture is ever charged with a related crime? How can you say that with a straight face? Most lawyers would have problems blurting out that whopper.

    1. Nice way to get lost in the minutiae lmfao.

  26. The cops in America today suck. This is what happens when u lower the standards over 4 decades so as the little ladies and physically unfit men can play policeman. Throw in the corrupt psychological test so as to find the "right" mentality" and walla. U get what we now get. Overweight and out of shape pigs..., with sycophant tendencies. Scared and overwhelmed shitheads that do as they're told. With no questions asked.
    The Phucko Knows

  27. 1. After he consented to a search… He then gave the officer permission to search his car. (Real stupid)
    2. Biden wrote the law that demands asset forfeiture even if there are no drugs, and seizure of "substitute" assets. Dems got Nevada by 2.3% over the anti-choice prohibitionist looters. (Women won)
    3. Libertarians with a communist anarchist on the ticket, a choice-indifferent candidate and a plank demanding uninspected entry of foreign criminals cost us 2.2%--instead of 3.29% spoiler clout in the popular vote. (Infiltrated party lost its leverage) Learn, baby, learn.

  28. "I don't trust banks, so I keep my own money," Lara responded when asked why. He then gave the officer permission to search his car.

    He doesn't appear to be very smart.

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