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Cops Steal $91,800 From a Musician, Claiming He Gave It to Them

Wyoming's roadside waivers are a thin disguise for highway robbery.

Institute for JusticeInstitute for JusticeAccording to the story the Wyoming Attorney General's Office is telling, Phil Parhamovich was moved during a traffic stop last March to donate $91,800, his life savings, to the state's Division of Criminal Investigation to help it wage the war on drugs. Parhamovich's version is rather more plausible: He says state police took his money after pressuring him to sign a "waiver" that circumvented even the limited protections offered by Wyoming's civil asset forfeiture law. Today Parhamovich is in state court, trying to get his money back with help from the Institute for Justice, which argues that Wyoming's roadside waivers are a thin disguise for highway robbery.

Parhamovich, a Wisconsin musician, was on his way to a gig in Salt Lake City on March 13 when a state trooper, Jeramy Pittsley, pulled him over on Interstate 80 in Laramie County for failing to buckle his seat belt. The stop turned into an interrogation, during which Pittsley asked, "Is there anything in your vehicle I should know about, such as guns, drugs, large amounts of cash, methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, LSD, etc.?" Parhamovich, startled that Pittsley suddenly suspected him of criminal activity, said no.

Pittsley walked a drug-sniffing dog around Parhamovich's minivan. "At first," the Institute for Justice says, "the dog seemed to find nothing interesting about the vehicle. Then, the trooper gestured with what appeared to be a hidden tennis ball, and the dog responded." The cops used that "alert" as an excuse to search the minivan, and eventually they found $91,800 inside a speaker cabinet. The cops were so excited by their discovery that they high-fived each other. The windfall also apparently made them forget that there was no trace of the drugs that Pittsley's dog supposedly had detected.

Parhamovich had earned the money legally, largely by fixing guitars and selling old farmhouses after renovating them. He brought the cash with him when he went on tour because he worried that it wouldn't be safe at his apartment in Madison. He planned to used $80,000 of it for a down payment on a Madison recording studio he was in the process of buying.

Now the troopers were insinuating that there was something illegal about carrying that much cash. There isn't, but Parhamovich was so intimidated that he initially denied the money was his, saying the speakers and the cash belonged to a friend. Despite that denial, the troopers presented him with a waiver saying, "I...the owner of the property or currency described below, desire to give this property or currency, along with any and all interests and ownership that I may have in it, to the State of Wyoming, Division of Criminal Investigation, to be used for narcotics law enforcement purposes." Because he had the impression that he would not be free to go otherwise, Parhamovich signed the form without understanding the legal consequences.

The waiver Parhamovich signed is aimed at getting around Wyoming's civil forfeiture rules, which the state legislature had tightened just a year before. The 2016 reforms included a requirement that law enforcement agencies prove seized property is connected to a crime by "clear and convincing evidence," a tougher test than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard it replaced. The legislation also mandated a probable cause hearing within 30 days of a seizure, required that property owners receive 15 days' notice of forfeiture hearings, and allowed judges to award them damages and attorney's fees when they successfully challenge forfeitures. But because Parhamovich "voluntarily" signed away his property, the cops did not have to worry about any of that. I.J. notes that Virginia and Texas have banned such waivers, recognizing that a motorist's consent in a situation like this is given under duress.

Four days after the traffic stop, Parhamovich sent a letter to the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the Attorney General's Office, seeking to rescind his waiver and asking to be informed of any relevant legal proceedings. The Attorney General's Office received three pieces of mail from Parhamovich in March and April, including documents verifying the sources of his money and his planned purchase of the recording studio. Parhamovich also submitted an electronic public records request. Each time he included his contact information, and he got two letters back from the Attorney General's Office, which nevertheless failed to notify him of its May 4 petition seeking to keep his money or the July 5 hearing at which the petition was granted. Instead the office placed a notice in a Wyoming newspaper, where Parhamovich, who lives in Wisconsin, would be sure not to see it.

Parhamovich is now seeking a new hearing, one that he will actually have an opportunity to attend. He also argues that his traffic stop was illegally extended, since Trooper Pittsley had no reasonable grounds to suspect he was involved in criminal activity; that he was entrapped by "misleading and compound questions that wrongly suggested it was illegal for him to be traveling with cash"; and that Pittsley and his colleagues did not have probable cause to search his minivan or seize his money.

Like other cases of highway robbery by police officers, Parhamovich's experience illustrates not only the perversity of civil forfeiture and the immorality of the war on drugs but the peril of giving cops license to harass and search motorists at will. If Wyoming did not have a paternalistic law authorizing it, Pittsley would not have been allowed to pull Parhamovich over for failing to buckle his seat belt, a quintessentially self-regarding decision. If the Supreme Court had not ruled that a canine's olfactory inspection does not count as a search under the Fourth Amendment and let the dogs out during routine traffic stops, Pittsley would not have been allowed to walk his dog around Parhamovich's minivan. If the Court had not ruled (unanimously!) that an alert by such a dog provides probable cause for a search, Pittsley and his accomplices would not have found Parhamovich's money. The sort of conscious cuing alleged by Parhamovich is just one reason the Court's faith in police dogs is misplaced.

These are the decisions that have created a society where armed agents of the state detain and search people on the slightest pretext, stealing whatever money they happen to find.

Update: At the hearing on Friday, Vox's German Lopez reports, a judge ordered the return of Parhamovich's money.

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  • Zeb||

    So, is NH the only state now that doesn't require adults to wear a seatbelt?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    It's such bullshit, too - how could the cop have possibly seen that he wasn't wearing his seat belt?

  • Mitsima||

    That's because there are no adults. You are all the state's children, my dear.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Parhamovich signed the form without understanding the legal consequences.

    This was stupid, regardless of any other circumstances.

  • Juice||

    I still don't understand why he signed the waiver. The cops basically asked if they could take all his money from him and he said ok (in writing). WTF?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's possible he didn't want to die in a ditch with 12 .40 cal rounds in his back.

  • sarcasmic||

    Because he had the impression that he would not be free to go otherwise, Parhamovich signed the form without understanding the legal consequences.

    I'm sure it was more than just an impression. He had a choice between signing the form or being arrested for assaulting the cops' fists with his face.

  • Juice||

    The probably weren't going to rough him up. They most likely would have tried to arrest him (on completely bullshit charges), but even if they didn't arrest him, I think the most likely scenario is that they would impound his car and search it then. They'd find the money and steal it, like they did anyway. But, the thing is they would not have his signature on a piece of paper saying it's ok with him if they do that. He would have an easier time fighting it and getting his money back, especially in light of the changes in the law mentioned.

  • Bradley Strider||

    Yeah, that was dumb. Understandable given the circumstances -- most people would have trouble keeping their nerve when a cop's telling you to sign something or go to jail.

    Hell, some people will even assume that by complying with police demands they're helping themselves. After all, they haven't done anything wrong...

  • JFree||

    Especially when the cops themselves escalated the situation every step of the way. That is extraordinary intimidation and there is no reason for a 'reasonable' person to believe that there is anything they can do to NOT escalate the situation even further.

  • Mickey Rat||

    My best guess is he could not believe it meant what it said. The chutzpah it takes for such a document to even exist is flabbergasting.

  • Juice||

    No matter what, I'm not signing shit on the side of the road. Whether it's a ticket or this thing. Especially not this thing. No sir.

  • sarcasmic||

    When you sign a ticket all you're saying is that you promise to appear in court. Refuse and they can lock you up until the court date.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Cops are from white people now?

    My God.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Donny Walbergs matter.

  • shamrock||

    What is his explanation for keeping all the money in cash rather than depositing it or at least putting it into a safe deposit box? Even if he made it legally, I'm guessing he his a tax evader, which may be enough for a forfeiture.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe, but not a forfeiture to the Wyoming state police.

    In any case, he owes no one an explanation for why he keeps his money in cash. Some people just do. Often for stupid reasons, but that's their problem. There is no law against it. If the IRS can prove he hasn't paid his taxes, then they can seize his money.

  • sarcasmic||

    There is no law against it.

    That's why they don't charge the person with a crime. They charge the cash with a crime, and the cash is guilty until proven innocent.

  • Zeb||

    Oh, I understand all that.

    But strictly speaking (and supposing for the sake of argument that you have some police who aren't liars and thieves, it's no one's business and he owes government agents no explanation for his legal activities, foolish as they might be.

  • sarcasmic||

    and supposing for the sake of argument that you have some police who aren't liars and thieves

    That is quite the supposition.

  • Zeb||

    Indeed.

  • Tionico||

    WHERE in the Constitution does some piece of personal property have the power of action? HOW can an inanimate object, like cash, or a car, or even a gun, COMMIT some offense? It cannot. The entire premise of this stinking civil asset "forfeiture" (accurately a theft) is flat out wrong. Goods can not question a witness against them, cannot have representation, cannot be imprisoned for wrongdoing, hey they can't even COMMIT a wrong, so HOW can thse eedjits even think cash can have a trial, defend itself, question witnesses, etc? It is ALL a tinking scam, and MUST END.

  • Johnimo||

    WRONG! The IRS doesn't have to prove anything. The suspect has to prove that he's done nothing wrong. When it comes to the IRS, the individual is guilty until he proves himself innocent. To say otherwise is to simply show that you've not yet been audited by the IRS.

    It's the primary reason we should change our tax system and get rid of most -- if not all -- of the IRS. A flat tax or a national sales tax would mostly fix the problem.

  • Mitsima||

    There is no law moral argument against it.

    Sorry, had to fix that; it was bugging me.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm guessing he his a tax evader, which may be enough for a forfeiture.

    Not without a conviction it's not. And even if it were, why would it go into the pockets of a couple of deputies from Boss Hog's department? The IRS would handle that. Not the Owl Creek district county police.

  • Dalben||

    Theoretically if the IRS were to go after him for tax evasion he would still owe the money and the fact that it was sitting in a police department bank wouldn't excuse him from paying.

  • Kivlor||

    What's his explanation for keeping all the money in cash?

    It's my money, not yours, and I don't have to put it in a bank or somewhere else if I don't want to.

  • shamrock||

    That's the country we may have lived in at one time, but clearly no longer. Sad.

  • Jury Nullification||

    "What is his explanation for keeping all the money in cash rather than depositing it or at least putting it into a safe deposit box?"

    Answer: No fucking explanation owed.

    "Even if he made it legally, I'm guessing he his a tax evader, which may be enough for a forfeiture."

    I'm guessing your a pedophile that is attempting to create a distraction from the likelihood of your own crimes. How do you like the guessing game, you statist POS.

    Who let this fuck in here? Revoke his membership immediately. DO NOT ever serve on a jury.

  • Tionico||

    He needs no reason to hold it in cash. His explaination of it not being safe in his apartment in that stinky town in Wisconsin holds water. Maybe he just doesn't want to splain everthin to the FedGov about why he's got ninety Large sitting in a bank account, or why he's putting that much in one place at one time. Some of the guitars in that picture of him look like they could be vintage collectible and worth huge sums. Bear in mind, too, that TAKING IN large sums of cash does not mean you have realised that much PROFIT, or income, to incur a tax liability. He'd just sold his farmhouse.... maybe he'd been pouring cash into it for ten years. Just now turning it to liquid cash to do the next thing.

    You thnk like a dirty copper.. just cause he's GOT the cash does not mean he's gotten it illegally, or failed to report/pay taxes as required. If he sold one property and turns the cach and profit around into another one within a year, the profit rolls into the next investment with no tax liability for it.

  • John C. Randolph||

    What is his explanation for keeping all the money in cash

    Why does he have to explain a goddamned thing? It's not illegal to possess Federal Reserve notes.

    -jcr

  • Mitsima||

    Yet.

    Once the feds have legislated and adjudicated warrant-less review of all financial transactions cash will become illegal.

  • bshep19||

    Cash will never become illegal. If it were illegal, what would lying scum politicians accept for bribes, Chickens?

  • retiredfire||

    I have to agree, and the explanation that 80 grand was going to be a down-payment on a building is even more bizarre.
    That Real Estate company doesn't want a wad of cash, like that. They will be reported to the FBI, when they try to deposit it.
    Sorry, in this day, and age, anyone keeping a large amount of cash is suspicious, though not enough that the cash is up for grabs by whatever law enforcement agency comes across it.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Fuck off Fascist

  • Mitsima||

    Maybe the seller isn't interested in feeding datapoints to the feds, either? Still nothing shady about that, assuming one still believes the tattered old trope about the land of the free, etc., etc.

  • Ragoftag||

    Irrelevant. The mason jars of gold coins I buried in the barn are no business of anyone. Forcing or coercing something from some one is the legal definition of theft. If all else fails, he should be reimbursed from any federal or State funds the officer's unit would receive. Make it a 2:1 reimbursement and AF will wilt.

  • Boomer||

    Wyoming is notorious for this kind of shit. I was pulled over on I80 in WY once for exceeding the speed limit by 40 mph (limit was 55 then; you do the math). I was on a road trip, driving a 4cyl car loaded with my wife, two kids and all our luggage. Oh, and we were going uphill.

    The Trooper who pulled me over said he hoped I had "a lot of money" with me, because in WY any ticket for speeding more than 20mph requires a "cash payment." I asked how much and he said something idiotic like $275 or something. I just held out my arms with my wrists together. He looked at me and said, "What?"

    I said, "You may as well cuff me and take me to jail. I don't travel with cash. And even if I did I wouldn't give it to you."

    He looked at me like I had a third eye, then wrote a ticket for 70 in a 55 zone. I strongly suspect that was his plan all along, with him simply pocketing the cash. Asshole. And I wasn't going 70; it was more like 68...

  • Juice||

    TIL 68 - 55 = 40

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As Iowahawk said, 119 in the left lane is more acceptable than 55 in the left lane.

  • KDN||

    The Trooper who pulled me over said he hoped I had "a lot of money" with me, because in WY any ticket for speeding more than 20mph requires a "cash payment."

    This sounds more like something that would happen in Tijuana.

  • Longtobefree||

    "Is there anything in your vehicle I should know about, such as guns, drugs, large amounts of cash, methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, LSD, etc.?"

    Hell no. You should not know anything about what is or is not in this car. Including but not limited to the things you just said.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    *blam*blam*blam*blam*blam*blam*

  • Peter Duncan||

    Hey, he had more than enough ammo to empty into the suspect than the 6 you gave him credit for, come on!

  • losmazeman||

    Duress: compulsion by threat - gave the statement under duress; specifically : unlawful constraint - held under duress

  • Texasmotiv||

    This is pretty disgusting. Brigands and highway robbery.

  • Johninsd||

    Interesting. Just the other day I had a similar experience in Childress TX. Driving an RV in the right lane at less than the speed limit I was pulled over by the Childress Police and the cop told me that he had seen my RV rocking (it was very windy, I was in a tall vehicle, and the pavement was uneven). One thing led to another - turned out that had his "drug dog" in his car with him, and after I refused to consent to a search he let the dog out and instructed the dog to sit. He had a tennis ball on a string that he used to get the dog's attention. Cops told me not to be nervous. Gee I don't know why anyone would get nervous locked in a police car wondering if he was going to be arrested or shot or have his vehicle stolen by two heavily armed strangers. Anxious to leave Childress I drove away, stopping about 20 miles down the road to do a quick inventory. Al least they didn't steal anything. I wonder if the police have any idea why they are losing the public's trust. It will be a very long time before I ever trust a cop and even longer before I return to Childress TX. I do regret failing to grab my phone from its dash mount as I got out of the RV. As the cops did not write me a ticket I have no record of this incident except for my memory - which will remain vivid for a long time. Had I thought to grab the phone I could at least have recorded part of the incident but I really didn't expect that the cops would be as nasty and dishonest as they were - lesson learned.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Sounds like reasons to have a hidden video camera inside (and maybe another pointed outside) the RV.

  • Eric||

    "I wonder if the police have any idea why they are losing the public's trust."

    I guarantee you that in Childress, TX and probably anywhere in Wyoming the police have the FULL trust and support of the vast majority of the public.

  • Johnimo||

    Really! You think all the people in Wyoming are bad because they don't come from your enlightened State. Which State is it; I want to go there to bask in the glory of all you good people.

  • Johninsd||

    I dunno - it is a rural area but that doesn't necessarily mean that the people are all Nazis.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    No, but they keep voting for the same Sheriff every four years.

  • Finrod||

    The man who robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

  • LarryWilson||

    So when they deposed the dog, what kind of drugs did it claim to smell?

  • Jayburd||

    They used one of my special dogs that I've trained to smell money.

  • LarryWilson||

    So it's only special because it can smell money, not because it can actually speak clearly into the deposition voice recorder?

  • Anomalous||

    Highway patrolman.

  • Tionico||

    NEVER tell anything to the coppers that is not true. You have the right to tell them NOTHING. As in, shut yer piehole. He did lie to thecop about the money, saying it was a friend's. They could get him just on that.

    NEVER consent to any search, even if the dog "hits". If you see the copper make a gesture and the dog instantluy respond, call him on it.. you trained that dog to alert on cue. This is a false positive. Get a second cop and dog here.

    SOMEONE needs to take these dirty coppers to the cleaners. And the practice of waving the waivers in front of detained people is illegal, and MUST be stopped. The Wyoming Legislature needs to come down on their enforcers, hard. This scam is NOT in keeping with the law these guys passed just last year. Call them on it.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    ^This

    In my dreams we meet a libertarian super hero who drops from the sky in situations like this and busts some clepto-cop ass.

  • Edward Henry Carson||

    Doesn't the free man retain the right to kill thieves? Until we start killing thieves, the theft will continue.

    Law enforcement is a joke. The only way to protect your rights is the barrel of a gun, or the exit chute of a woodchipper.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    State finally orders return of money. Probably because of publicity.
    Judge Orders Wyoming to Return $92,000 Seized by Officers

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Yay, one for sanity (and legal values)!

  • ||

    Holy. Fucking. Shit.

    It's a criminal enterprise now. The state IS the mob.

  • ||

    Maybe someone should tell NFL players, 'see, you're not the only one to face injustice. Whites are (more likely) victims of asset forfeiture'.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So next time you get pulled over, take a knee?

  • LarryWilson||

    Only if the cop demands that you stand while he sings the star spangled banner.

  • Mitsima||

    Blah blah, blah blah blah.

    Were the cops fired? Were they individually liable to reimburse the victim for his legal expenses? If no to either, the rest is bullshit.

  • Mitsima||

    Pittsley walked a drug-sniffing dog around Parhamovich's minivan.

    How does this square w/ Rodriguez (13-9972)? Asking for a friend.

  • eamonkelly||

    Alas, another case where one is victimized by their own ignorance.

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