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United States v. $50

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 11, 2016

UNITED STATES of AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$50, 900 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY OF IBC BANK CASHIER'S CHECK #162263996 IN THE AMOUNT OF $250, 910 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, SEIZED ON MAY 27, 2015, FROM INSURED AIRCRAFT TITLE SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          F. DENNIS SAYLOR, IV UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an in rem civil forfeiture action. The United States alleges that the defendant property-“$50, 900 in United States currency of IBC Bank Cashier's Check #16226396 in the amount of $250, 910 in United States currency, seized on May 27, 2015, from Insured Aircraft Title Service, Inc., located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma”-was intended to be used for the purchase of a Gulfstream II aircraft meant for use in narcotics trafficking. The government seeks forfeiture of the property pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A).

         Pending before the Court are motions to dismiss the action filed by claimants Benjamin Polat and Luis Saldana Grillo. Claimants contend that the complaint must be dismissed because (1) venue is improper; (2) the government did not provide timely notice of the administrative forfeiture process; and (3) the complaint fails to establish probable cause for the forfeiture of the defendant currency. For the reasons stated below, the action will be transferred to the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts giving rise to this action are described in the affidavit of Drug Enforcement Agent John Grella, attached to the complaint as Exhibit A. The bulk of Grella's affidavit describes an undercover investigation carried out by the DEA in Massachusetts.

         Internationally-based narcotics traffickers generate large amounts of cash from their illegal activities in the United States that must be “laundered” before it can be repatriated back to the traffickers' home countries. Grella Aff. ¶¶ 12-13. Narcotics traffickers typically use the services of a third-party money broker, who in turn uses contacts in the United States to receive drug proceeds in cash and deposit them into the United States banking system. Id. ¶ 15.

         On April 8, 2015, an undercover DEA agent received a message from a Colombia-based money broker requesting that the agent “pick up” approximately $300, 000 in cash in Boston. Id. ¶ 16. The broker eventually provided the agent with the cell phone number of the money courier and a photograph of the serial number of a one-dollar bill so that the courier and agent would be able to verify the other's identity. Id. On April 10, 2015, the agent met with the courier at a grocery store in Boston and obtained a brown bag containing $398, 820 in United States currency. Id. ¶¶ 17-26.

         The agent deposited the currency into a DEA undercover account in Massachusetts. On April 29, 2015, in accordance with the broker's instructions, the agent sent a wire transfer in the amount of $50, 045 to account number 717213717 at the International Bank of Commerce. Id. ¶ 27. Neither the complaint nor the affidavit identify the location of International Bank of Commerce.[1] The broker identified the account holder as “Insured Aircraft Title Service” and provided the agent with an aircraft tail number, N689JE.[2] A few days later, the broker requested that the agent retrieve the wire transfer because the money was needed in another account. The agent did so. On May 12, 2015, the broker instructed the agent to wire the $50, 045 to an account at Bank of America in the name of “American Initiative Corporation.” Id. ¶ 28. That wire was sent on May 13, 2015. Id. ¶ 29. The next day, the subject property account at International Bank of Commerce received a transfer from the American Initiative Corporation, Homestead, Florida, in the amount of $50, 045. According to the affidavit, that transaction was “associated with” the same aircraft tail number of N689JE. Id. ¶ 30.

         Insured Aircraft Title Service is based in Oklahoma City. Id. ¶ 31. Insured Aircraft Title Service received three other wire transfers for the purchase of N68JE, all of which were deposited into the same IBC account. Id. ¶ 32. Those three transactions were (1) $8, 900 from Luis G. Saldana Grillo in Caracas, Venezuela, sent via Mercantil Commercebank in Coral Gables, Florida; (2) $42, 000 from PeeBee Corporation in Aventura, Florida, sent via Bank of America;[3] and (3) $149, 965 from Krause Ventures LTD in the British Virgin Islands, sent via Credicorp Bank in Panama City, Panama. The first two transactions (from Saldana Grillo and PeeBee) make up the $50, 900 that is the subject property in this action.

         The description of the subject property indicates that it is a portion of an IBC cashier's check in the amount of $250, 910; that it was seized on May 27, 2015; and that it is located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There is no additional information in the complaint or the Grella affidavit as to the circumstances of the seizure or the physical location of the property.

         B. Procedural Background

         The present in rem civil forfeiture action was filed on December 11, 2015. The government alleges that the defendant property was used or intended to be used to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and/or 846, and seeks forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). On December 28, 2015, this Court issued a warrant and monition.

         Claimant Polat filed a notice of verified claim on March 11, 2016, and a motion to dismiss the complaint on April 5, 2016. Claimant Saldana Grillo filed a notice of verified claim and a motion to dismiss on April 19, 2016. Claimants contend that the complaint must be dismissed because (1) venue is improper; (2) the government did not provide timely notice of the administrative forfeiture ...


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