LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — A Rancho Cucamonga woman will get to keep $1 million that was seized by a Nebraska state trooper during a traffic stop.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Omaha has given up its claim to the money and will return it to Tara Mishra within about a week, said Roger Diamond, Mishra’s attorney.
Left unanswered is why the government gave up the fight.
“They refused to tell me,” Diamond said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s motion to dismiss its own appeal of a federal judge’s order earlier this year to return the $1 million, plus interest, to Mishra. The 35-year-old says she earned the money over years as an exotic dancer.
John Higgins with the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to discuss the reason for the dismissal request with The Associated Press on Wednesday, saying only that it was “an internal decision which I am not at liberty to address,” in an email.
The motion filed asking for the dismissal was a simple one-sentence request that did not give a reason.
Diamond believes the Justice Department was afraid that if the appeals court had upheld the federal judge’s decision, the case would have set a legal precedent in property seizure cases, making it harder for the government to seize property through civil forfeiture laws.
“If they thought they were going to win, they would have pursued it,” Diamond said.
The case has drawn attention to civil forfeiture laws that permit law enforcement to seize the money and property of people suspected of crimes. The laws have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases, and critics say they’re increasingly being used to take property and cash from those who are never even charged with a crime.
Diamond told KNX 1070’s Mike Landa that Nebraska law enforcement “does what a lot of state troopers do — they arbitrarily stop vehicles and they ask if they can have permission to search the vehicle. If they find money, they take it.
“It’s called highway robbery, and it’s going on throughout the country.”
A Nebraska state trooper seized the money during a March 3, 2012, traffic stop on Interstate 80 near North Platte. Police handcuffed and detained a husband and wife, who told officers that Mishra had given them the money to invest in a New Jersey nightclub.
They were released without charges, but only after agreeing to relinquish the cash. Officials said a drug-sniffing dog had indicated drug residue on the cash and that the large amount meant the money was obtained in the illegal drug trade.
Mishra filed a claim to get the money back, but the government argued she had no standing to object to the seizure, saying that because she had given the money to the couple, they were the only ones who had standing to make a claim for it.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon rejected that argument in July, saying Mishra showed she had claimed the earnings on tax returns and proved details about an agreement she 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.
Bataillon also took issue with law enforcement almost immediately converting the cash to a cashier’s check, leaving Mishra no opportunity to exercise her right to rebut the government’s claims about the money being tied to drugs.
Diamond says his client recently had a baby and needs the $1 million.
Mishra has declined requests to speak to The Associated Press about the case.
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