A U.S. District Court is reconsidering whether more than half a million dollars confiscated from the cab of a tractor-trailer – with no one ever charged with a crime –should be returned to the owners of the truck.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock is reviewing the case, USA v. $579,475. Because it is a civil asset forfeiture case, the government is suing the property, not a person. Federal authorities are prosecuting the forfeiture proceedings.
The case arises from a traffic stop on Interstate 40 in Faulkner County, Ark. On Sept. 24, 2014, an Arkansas State Police officer pulled over a tractor-trailer for having swerved onto the right shoulder of the highway. It was driven by Yu Lin Yuan, who was driving for LNG Express Inc., New York.
The arresting officer noted that the driver and a co-driver appeared to be nervous. Upon reviewing the drivers’ logbook, bills of lading and driver’s licenses, the officer noted the drivers had taken two weeks off in New York before their trip to Stockton, Calif.
“The complaint alleges that Stockton is known to law enforcement as a source area for high-grade marijuana,” according to court documents.
The officer also noted that the drivers said they had worked for the company for two months and yet had taken two weeks off. The driver said he did not know his boss’s name and he did not have guns, cash or large amounts of money in the cab. The officer said the driver gave him permission to search the cab.
The officer found two cardboard boxes taped shut with packing tape containing rubber-band bound bundles of money in them. After they were taken to the Faulkner County Prosecutor’s Office, the co-drivers signed a form saying the money did not belong to them. They were both released.
A drug-sniffing dog was led around the boxes and alerted offers of the presence of narcotics on the boxes, according to court documents. Officers had the $579,475 counted at a bank.
LNG Express was incorporated in 2014. It no longer has a U.S. DOT number. Its two executives were President Yanna Liang and General Manager Zhuo Nong Li. They claimed $400,000 of the money came from an undocumented loan made to LNG by a Chinese company owned by the general manager’s nephew. The rest of the $579,475 totalwas from the company executives’ personal savings, according to court documents.
The LNG executives did not say how the money came into the country or if it had been declared. They also did not tell law enforcement officers how much of the personal savings was owned by each of the company executives.
The government sought to have the $579,475 forfeited on the grounds that the money was from the sale of controlled substances or for the purchase of them. No charges, however, were filed in connection with the case.
The government argued in district court that the money should be forfeited because LNG Express executives did not fully address the questions raised and asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination
A panel of the Eighth Circuit initially affirmed the district court decision to take the $579,475 by forfeiture. Now, though, the full Eighth Circuit Court has reversed the affirmation and sent the case back to district court.
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