United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
ORDER GRANTING GOVERNMENT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
E. SELF, III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
instant civil-forfeiture action, the United States (the
“Government”) moves for summary judgment against
$184, 980.00 (“Defendant Property”) and James E.
Maxwell, Jr. (“Claimant”). [Doc. 67]. Claimant
does not contest the motion, and for the following reasons,
the Government's motion is GRANTED.
following facts are undisputed. In June of 2013, Drug Enforcement
Administration (“DEA”) agents seized $139, 700.00
from Ira Christopher Jackson at the San Francisco
International Airport in San Francisco, California. [Doc.
55-2, p. 2; Doc. 67- 3, p. 21:3-13]. Afterward, now-retired
DEA Special Agent Helen Graziadei directed that the seized
currency be returned to Mr. Jackson so as not to interfere
with an ongoing criminal investigation. [Id.].
Approximately four months later, Houston (Texas) Police
Department officers seized $219, 790.00 from Claimant at
George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.
See generally [Doc. 55-1]. As with the currency seized
from Ira Jackson, Special Agent Graziadei directed that the
currency seized from Claimant be returned upon discovering
that Claimant was also part of an ongoing investigation.
[Doc. 67-3, p. 20:1-16].
and other law enforcement agencies began investigating
Claimant and others in January of 2014 for a conspiracy
involving a flow of money, marijuana, and cocaine between
Macon, Georgia, Houston, Texas, and northern California.
[Id. at pp. 15:11-16:9; Doc. 67-4, ¶ 3]. The
following individuals participated in the conspiracy:
Claimant (a/k/a “Sonny Spoon”), Frederick Carter,
Ira Jackson, Kenna Middleton (a/k/a “Cuz”),
Chancellor Lucear, James Faulks (a/k/a “Red”),
Bernard Engram (a/k/a “Cricket”), Shukree
Simmons, Skylar Ward, William Shamone Lewis (a/k/a
“Mone”), and Joseph Pierre Brown. [Id.
at pp. 16:10-19:13; Doc. 67-5]. The conspiracy and the
individuals involved are hereinafter referred to as the
“DTO, ” or Drug Trafficking Organization.
August 29 and October 1, 2014, the Government applied for and
received three court orders authorizing the interception of
wire and other electronic communications. See United
States v. 919-819-0426, No. 5:14-mj-00029-CHW, ECF Nos.
32, 34, 52. The DEA used these orders to intercept cell phone
calls and texts messages from devices including phones used
by Ira Jackson and Claimant. Id. The contents of the
communications revealed to DEA agents that DTO participants
were depositing large amounts of cash into bank accounts and
distributing cocaine and marijuana. [Doc. 67-4, ¶¶
4-25; Doc. 67-6; Docs. 55-4 through -7].
October 11 and 12, 2014, the DEA intercepted numerous calls
and text messages showing that Claimant and other DTO members
were collecting drug proceeds to be transported to Houston,
Texas. [Doc. 67-4, ¶¶ 12-25]. In the early morning
of October 12, 2014, Special Agent Graziadei observed via
surveillance camera footage a white limousine pulling up to a
music studio in Macon, Georgia, where Maxwell facilitated his
drug trafficking activities. [Id. at ¶¶
25-26]. At around the same time, Special Agent Graziadei
observed another vehicle fitting the description of one
driven by DTO co-conspirator Kenna Middleton pull up next to
the white limousine. [Id. at ¶ 26]. Two
individuals met at the trunk of the limousine, opened it,
placed something inside, and closed it again. [Id.].
The individuals returned to their vehicles and then drove
an hour later and at the direction of the DEA, Georgia State
Patrol Corporal (now Sergeant) Jay Thompson stopped a white
Lincoln Town Car Executive for speeding as it traveled
through Butler, Georgia toward Columbus, Georgia.
[Id. at ¶ 26; Doc. 67-7, ¶¶ 4-6].
Claimant and his driver, Maurice Dillard, were inside the
vehicle. [Doc. 67-6, ¶¶ 8, 14, 19]. During the
ensuing traffic stop, Mr. Dillard consented to a search of
the car but Claimant denied consent to search his belongings,
which included a computer bag, clothes, a pillow, a suitcase
in the trunk, and $150, 000 in cash. [Id. at
¶¶ 18, 20-22]. A K-9 unit arrived at the scene of
the stop and conducted an open-air sniff of Claimant's
luggage, which Corporal Thompson had previously placed in the
emergency lane on the side of the road. [Id. at
¶ 24, 28-30]. The K-9 alerted to the odor of illegal
drugs on the luggage. [Id. at ¶ 30]. Corporal
Thompson then searched the luggage and found bundles of
currency, which he seized and turned over to Sergeant B.
Surfus of the Macon-Bibb County Police Department, who was
working with the DEA. [Id. at ¶¶ 31-33,
39]. Claimant and his driver were released. [Id. at
that morning, DEA agents intercepted a phone call between DTO
co-conspirators Ira Jackson and Kenna Middleton (a/k/a
“Cuz”). [Doc. 55-40; Doc. 55, Ex. 22- A (audio);
Doc. 67-3, p. 49:8-15]. During the call, Jackson indicated
that $25, 000 of the cash seized during Corporal
Thompson's traffic stop belonged to him. [Doc. 55-40;
Doc. 55, Ex. 22-A (audio)].
Jury indicted Claimant and 30 other individuals on various
charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to
distribute marijuana and cocaine, possession with intent to
distribute marijuana, and money laundering. United States
v. Maxwell, No. 5:15-cr-00035-MTT-CHW, ECF No. 1. The
United States Attorney subsequently charged Claimant by
superseding information with two counts of possession with
intent to distribute marijuana after two of Claimant's
co-defendants admitted that they discussed distributing
marijuana with Claimant and assisted him in the distribution
of marijuana. Id. at ECF Nos. 475, 569, 592.
Claimant pled guilty to the charges in the superseding
information, and in doing so, he admitted to being a
conspirator in the DTO, stipulated that the Government could
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was traveling to
Houston, Texas to exchange the seized cash for marijuana, and
stipulated that between 700 and 900 kilograms of marijuana
were attributable to him. Id. at ECF No. 595.
Co-conspirator Ira Jackson also pled guilty to the criminal
charges against him and admitted that on March 5 and 6, 2014
he and Claimant made cash deposits at three Bank of America
branches in Macon, Georgia to “further the payment and
distribution of marijuana.” Id. at ECF No.
879, p. 9. The Court entered judgment against Claimant, and
he was sentenced to 120 months of imprisonment. Id.
at ECF No. 1008.
the underlying criminal prosecution, the Government filed the
instant action, alleging that the currency seized by Corporal
Thompson constituted forfeitable money used or intended to be
used to facilitate a violation of the Controlled Substances
Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. [Doc. 2]. Claimant
filed motions to dismiss the complaint and to suppress the
evidence obtained by Corporal Thompson during the traffic
stop, both of which were denied. See [Docs. 26, 27,
46, 56]. The Government now moves for summary judgment, and
the Court finds as follows.
Controlled Substances Act provides for the forfeiture of any
“moneys . . . or other things of value furnished or
intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a
controlled substance . . ., all proceeds traceable to such an
exchange, and all moneys . . . used or intended to be used to
facilitate any violation of” the Act. 21 U.S.C. §
881(a)(6). In cases, like this one, in which the Government
seeks forfeiture of property it alleges was used or involved
in the commission of a crime, the Government bears the burden
of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that there was
a “substantial connection” between the property
and the crime. 18 U.S.C. § 983(c). To meet this burden,
the Government “need only show that the money was
related to some illegal drug transaction.” United
States v. 183, 791.00 in U.S. Currency, 391 Fed.Appx.
791, 794 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (quoting United
States v. $242, 484.00, 389 F.3d 1149, 1160 (11th Cir.
2004) (en banc)). The Court is to consider the evidence in
light of the totality of the circumstances and “a
common sense view to the realities of normal life.”
Id. (first citing United States v. $121, 100.00
in U.S. Currency, 999 F.2d 1503, 1507 (11th Cir. 1993)
and then citing $242, 484.00, 389 F.3d at 1160).
the Government bears the burden of proof in this case, it
must “affirmatively show the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact and support its motion with credible
evidence demonstrating that no reasonable jury could find for
the non-moving party on all of the essential elements of its
case.” Landolfi v. City of Melbourne, 515
Fed.Appx. 832, 834 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Fitzpatrick
v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993)).
Once the Government has met its burden of proving the
forfeitability of the seized currency, the burden shifts to
the non-movant, who must “go beyond the pleadings and
present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of
material fact exists.” Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d
1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Fitzpatrick, 2
F.3d at 1115- 17). When the non-movant files no response to a
motion for summary judgment, the Court may not grant summary
judgment by default but must instead consider the merits of
the motion, ensure that the motion ...