LOS ANGELES (AP) — An attorney for a California woman who successfully sued to get back more than $1 million seized during a traffic stop in Nebraska said Wednesday that she has not yet been repaid.
Tara Mishra, 35, of Rancho Cucamonga, is due to give birth within a month and “could really use that money,” said her attorney, Roger Diamond of Santa Monica.
A Nebraska state trooper seized the money after a March 3 traffic stop on Interstate 80 near North Platte. Police arrested a husband and wife in the car, who told officers that Mishra had given them the money to invest in a New Jersey nightclub.
The two people were released without charges, but state officials kept the money, saying a drug-sniffing dog had indicated drug residue on the cash and that the large amount indicated it was obtained in the illegal drug trade.
Mishra filed a claim to get the money back, saying it was her life savings earned over years as an exotic dancer. But the government argued she had no standing to object to the seizure, saying that because she had given the money to the couple driving the car, they were the only ones who had standing to make a claim for it.
Diamond took issue with the government’s arguments, saying the seizure “amounted to highway robbery.”
“The law in California is, if you entrust money to somebody to deliver it, you’re not giving it to them,” he said. “Otherwise, FedEx would be… taking all of its customers’ money.”
A federal judge in Nebraska who presided over Mishra’s lawsuit also took issue with the government’s case, saying fingerprints on the bags containing the money belonged to Mishra and her husband, that Mishra showed she had claimed the earnings on tax returns and that the Mishras provided details about an agreement they had to buy part of a New Jersey bar.
The government’s claim that the money was tainted with drug residue was of little value, the judge said, as there is a belief that nearly all cash in circulation is drug tainted.
He ordered the $1,074,900 seized repaid to Mishra, with interest. It’s unclear whether the interest is market rate or set by law at another rate. But until it’s paid, Diamond said, that interest will compound daily.
Diamond said it’s the first time a person has successfully sued to get a large amount of money back after government officials in Nebraska seized it.
The government has 60 days from the July 18 ruling to appeal, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Nebraska.
John Higgins, chief of the office’s Drug Enforcement Unit, said officials there are “evaluating our options.” He declined to comment further.
Mishra has declined to speak to reporters about the case, Diamond said.
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