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Judge orders forfeiture of $27,000 seized near Ashland

An Arizona man will not get back the $27,030 that Oregon State Police seized from him during a traffic stop near Ashland in late 2019, even though the man was never convicted of a crime.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senior District Judge Anna Brown ordered that the money be forfeited to the government, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Just after noon Nov. 6, 2019, an OSP trooper with a K-9 stopped a white Nissan Altima sedan with California plates near milepost 12 on northbound Interstate 5 for allegedly failing to signal a lane change from the passing lane to the slow lane, according to an affidavit filed by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations special agent in the case.

“(The trooper) approached the passenger side of the vehicle and immediately could smell a mild odor of marijuana coming from inside the Altima,” the affidavit states.

The driver denied consent to search the vehicle, but the trooper gained probable cause after K-9 Jaxson alerted on two pieces of luggage in the trunk.

OSP found a “large empty black duffel bag in the trunk that smelled like marijuana” and a silver bag inside a suitcase that contained cash.

OSP arrested him on a felony charge of money laundering; however, the Mail Tribune is not naming the man because court records show that the crime was never prosecuted.

Police claim the man was on his way to Portland to buy marijuana.

Police gave the man a Notice of Abandonment and Assent to Forfeiture of Prohibited or Seized Merchandise, but the Arizona man refused to sign the form.

Court documents state that the man submitted an administrative claim for the money that stated, “I claim all of the $27,030 and it is mine.”

Federal prosecutors attempted to notify the man about the forfeiture process in April of last year, but their notification via certified mail came back return to sender with no forwarding address, according to a document filed late last week by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter.

In November, the man sent an email to the government asking for his money. The government replied by telling him he needed to file a claim to the money and asked him to confirm an address for service.

“No response was received to that email,” Potter’s document states.

In January, an individual claiming to be the Arizona man’s legal assistant called the government. The government emailed claim paperwork to the email address the legal assistant provided, and explained that they would also need to file a claim in U.S. District Court.

The government never received any further communication, and no claim was ever filed.

Based on the lack of responses, Senior District Judge Brown on Tuesday ordered the $27,030 be transferred to the U.S. Treasury “for disposition in accordance with applicable statutes and regulations,” according to the the court order.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.