Police Seize $37,000 from Driver Passing Through Tuscaloosa on I-20/59
Police in Tuscaloosa seized $37,000 from a driver passing through the area last week, according to court documents filed Tuesday morning.
In a Fruits of Crime Forfeiture lawsuit, an area police officer said they were patrolling Interstate 20/69 last week when a passing vehicle "swerved over the fog line," prompting the officer to pull the driver over.
The driver, a Texas resident, provided his driver's license and the officer reportedly decided to issue him a written warning for improper lane usage but asked the driver to sit in his patrol vehicle while he wrote the ticket.
That's when the red flags began, according to the officer. The driver was "excessively sweating from his forehead" in the air-conditioned police vehicle and allegedly said he had spent the last few days driving from Houston, Texas to New York and was on his way back to the Lone Star State.
The officer noted in the forfeiture suit that it is "common for drug traffickers to make quick turnaround trips, over long distances, coming to and from major cities across the US using the interstate system."
The officer said they asked the driver if he was carrying any illegal drugs or large amounts of cash, and the driver answered no.
"I then asked [the driver] for consent to search his vehicle due to his nervousness while answering simple questions," the officer wrote in the complaint.
The driver reportedly OK'd the search, and the officer found two large bundles of cash wrapped up and stored under some clothes in a suitcase in the vehicle.
One bundle contained $25,000 cash, and a second contained $12,000 more, according to the complaint.
"The money was packaged and bundled in a way I know, due to my training and experience, to be consistent with the way drug traffickers transport illegal contraband across the country in hopes a narcotics K-9 will not detect it," the officer wrote.
The driver reportedly denied ownership of the money and asked to call his friend to whom the cash belonged. He dialed a Texas number and hung up after a short conversation.
The officer was soon joined by another investigator and a supervisor, and the three of them took the driver back to the Tuscaloosa Municipal Courthouse for more detailed interviews.
The driver reportedly began to refuse to cooperate, but the officers note that there may have been a language barrier at play.
The driver was released without being charged with a crime, but the officers kept the cash seized during the traffic stop. According to the document, the number the driver dialed was linked to an address where a suspect was charged with money laundering in 2017.
It is the general policy of the Tuscaloosa Thread to only identify suspects by name if they are accused of felony offenses, and because the driver was not charged with a crime, his will not be shared here.
It is now the responsibility of the driver to prove to a judge that the money seized was obtained without violating Alabama state law.
If the judge rules that the asset seizure was appropriate, the funds are generally split between the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force and the county district attorney's office.
WANTF typically seizes several hundred thousand dollars from suspected drug dealers every year. The seizures are filed as civil suits, and some people whose money or other property is forfeited are never charged with a crime.