Driver sues feds after they search cab, confiscate $23,000 in cash

| 8/27/2007

A Texas trucker whose $23,000 in cash was confiscated from his truck by federal drug agents has sued the federal government to get his money back.

Anastasio Prieto – a U.S. citizen who resides in El Paso, TX, and is contracted with Schneider National Carriers – said he distrusts banks and chooses to carry large amounts of cash.

According to court documents, Prieto passed through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint on U.S. 54 on Aug. 8 before pulling into a weigh station in New Mexico at 10:30 a.m. A New Mexico Department of Public Safety officer told Prieto his trailer had a worn tire, and an officer asked if he could search the truck.

After Prieto allowed the search, the officer asked him whether he had possession of needles or cash in excess of $10,000.

Prieto told the officer he had no needles but he did have $23,700 in cash, which was taken by officers who then contacted a supervisor.

According to the lawsuit, the supervisor showed up at the weigh station about one hour later but rejected Prieto’s willingness to show her income documents he said proved the cash belonged to him.

Seizing money was routine, one of the two officers told Prieto, and Gary Apodaca, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer, told him he’d probably get his cash back “in a year from now.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has assisted Prieto in his suit, and New Mexico ACLU Executive Director Peter Simonson told the Houston Chronicle Prieto needs cash for bills and truck maintenance.

Prieto was allowed to leave at 4 p.m., cited only for the worn trailer tire.

Prieto filed a civil lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in New Mexico alleging that several DEA and New Mexico officials performed an illegal search and seizure of his property and is seeking the destruction of his photograph and fingerprints, compensatory and punitive damages.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer