James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

The cash smelled like pot, so the feds kept it

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: June 3, 2014 - 10:16 AM
Working dog at an airport

Working dog at an airport

Someone had tipped off federal agents that a California man with a large quantity of drug money would soon be boarding a flight from Minnesota to Arizona. They spotted him at gate H-7 in the Humphrey Terminal of Minneapolis-St. Paul International and let loose a "certified narcotics dog." The dog showed strong olfactory interest in two of the man's three pieces of luggage. So the feds seized those two bags and let the man get on the plane to Phoenix.

They knew what they might find in the two bags because the man had already told them that he had a large quantity of cash from his bingo business. The feds found no drugs, but $138,121 that - literally - smelled like marijuana, according to court records. 

Last week, U.S. Chief District Judge Michael Davis entered a default judgment that allows the federal government to keep the money through forfeiture. The man from whom it was seized that day in January 2013 did not make a claim for it. Nor did anyone else. According to the arrest warrant filed against the money, the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations maintains that it represented the proceeds from the distribution of "high-grade" marijuana in Minnesota. Eight months following the seizure, federal agents raided a warehouse in Oakland, Calif., where they found a walled-off area housing a marijuana growing operation, according to records.

I could not find any criminal charges against the former owner, so I'm not naming him. It's another example of how the forfeitures can move forward on their own legal track.

About the same amount of money was seized in a marijuana investigation in Dakota County late last month that resulted in drug charges against four people. Either amount would easily cover the cost of the first year's salary of whoever's hired to run the new Minnesota Office of Medical Cannabis.

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