CLIFTON PARK — The federal government is trying to keep $9,300 in suspected drug money that was seized during a traffic stop in town last year, according to a court filing. There were no drug arrests, but one of the occupants was charged with possessing forged identification.
Federal prosecutors filed paperwork in court this week to confiscate the cash, which was found when state police stopped a Vermont couple on Interstate 87 on Sept. 18.
Prosecutors allege troopers found the money in a backpack that had a “strong odor of marijuana,” though no marijuana was found.
Albany attorney Theodore G. Hartman, who is representing the Vermont family, said the seizure amounted to theft.
“That money is essentially being stolen from these clients by the government,” Hartman said. “There’s no connection between that money and any kind of unlawful act whatsoever.”
Hartman added that the marijuana odor detailed in the document was the first he had heard of such an allegation.
“Nobody’s ever said that to me before,” Hartman said.
Hartman said he sees the action as part of a renewed effort by the U.S. Justice Department to increase so-called civil forfeitures under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions re-instituted a policy last year to help law enforcement agencies keep money taken from people who were suspected of crimes but not charged with anything. The move reversed a directive from then-Attorney General Eric Holder to stop the practice.
It was unclear if that policy change affected the handling of the money seized in Clifton Park, as Hartman said local prosecutors agreed to return the money at the conclusion of the fake ID case. But the cash had already been seized by federal authorities.
Lauren Desautels was the driver of the vehicle, which was stopped by police for a traffic violation, according to court documents. Desautels had a suspended license, the filing states. Anthony Hunte was a passenger in the vehicle.
Desautels and Hunte allegedly gave conflicting accounts of why they were in the area. Troopers then got consent to search their vehicle.
A state police dog that was walked around the vehicle “alerted” its handler to the possible presence of drugs, according to records. The K-9 then alerted again — specifically on the backpack. Police found the money and detected the marijuana odor when they opened the backpack, according to court documents.
Hunte claimed ownership of the backpack and was found with two forged identifications. He claimed the money was to purchase equipment for his cleaning business. Desautels also claimed ownership of the money, but as a gift from her mother to buy electrolysis equipment for a business she just started, the filing states.
Desautels gave state police the number for her mother, Robin Carmody, but she denied knowledge of the cash.
Hunte was charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument and Desautels with traffic violations.
Hunte later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, Hartman said, but the cash had already been seized by federal authorities.
Desautels filed a formal claim for the money in November, the filing states. A federal judge will hear arguments and decide what to do with the cash.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County