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United States v. $84

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 12, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$84, 367 IN U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant.

          BENCH TRIAL OPINION

          JOHN R. ADAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The government filed a complaint for forfeiture in rem on December 15, 2015, stating that, on August 1, 2015, $84, 367 in United States currency (“the defendant currency”) was seized pursuant to a federal search warrant executed at the residence of James E. Golden (“Golden”) and Tiffany Motley-Golden (“Motley”) (collectively, “claimants”), 544 Douglas Street, Akron, Ohio. (Doc. # 1.) Golden and Motley filed separate answers and claims to the seized money, arguing that they are the rightful owners of the defendant currency and that it constitutes earnings from lawful employment and rental properties. (Doc. #s 4, 5, 10, 11, 12.) The Court set this matter for a bench trial. (Doc. # 33.) Following a two-day bench trial, the parties submitted post-trial briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. (Doc. #s 51, 52, 53, 54.) Accordingly, this matter is ready for decision.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         The Court makes the following findings of fact as required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). The Court's findings of fact are based upon the testimony and exhibits received at trial, and upon the record in this matter. To the extent that the findings of fact contain conclusions of law, the conclusions of law shall be regarded as such.

         1. On August 1, 2015, Anthony Mathews (“Mathews”) purchased two ounces of cocaine from claimant Golden for $2, 400 cash. The drug deal occurred at Golden's home located at 544 Douglas Street, Akron, Ohio. (Testimony of Mathews with corroboration by pole camera as testified to by Special Agent (“SA”) Dan Werhmeyer.)

         2. Mathews currently is serving a five-year prison term for possessing 108.86 grams of cocaine he admitted he had in his possession on August 1, 2015. The cocaine included two ounces he had purchased from Golden on August 1, 2015, and an additional two ounces he had purchased from Golden for $2, 400 cash at Golden's residence the previous week. (Testimony of Mathews; Government Exhibit (“GVX”) 1.)

         3. Mathews had purchased at least five kilograms of cocaine from Golden between 2010 and August 1, 2015, usually in two-ounce quantities. Golden is his regular source of supply for cocaine, which is readily available most times of year and sold to Mathews always at Golden's house on Douglas Street, or at Golden's previous home on Glendora Avenue in Akron, Ohio. (Testimony of Mathews.) These facts were corroborated by the testimony of SA Werhmeyer, who observed Mathews visiting the Douglas Street home on numerous occasions by pole camera. (GVX 36.)

         4. Notwithstanding claimants' argument that Mathews' testimony lacks any credibility because he would receive early release in exchange for cooperation with the government, the Court finds Mathews' testimony to be more credible than not.

         5. Officers of the Akron/Summit County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“HIDTA”) Initiative and Safe Streets Task Force executed a federal search warrant at 544 Douglas Street, Akron, Ohio, the residence of Golden and Motley, on August 1, 2015. Golden lives at the home with his wife, Motley, and their three minor children. Both Golden and Motley were present at the search. No. cocaine was located during the search. However, a large quantity of cash, the defendant currency, was found scattered throughout the house together with marijuana, a loaded Taurus semi-automatic pistol, and a money counter. Specifically, the following amounts were found: (1) $12, 890 was discovered in a large wad in the pocket of a heavy construction or hunting coat hanging in the stairwell leading to the basement; (2) $14, 740 was found in piles in an upper kitchen cabinet together with a portion of the marijuana found in the home; (3) $17, 760 was recovered from an attic bedroom; (4) $38, 647 was found in plastic bags hidden in a clothes hamper in the master bedroom, the same room where the firearm was discovered between the mattresses; and (5) $330 was discovered on Golden's person. Some of the money was banded in a style that drug dealers often employ. (Testimony of SA Doug Borchert; Testimony of SA Wehrmeyer; Testimony of Task Force Officer (“TFO”) Tom Gottas; GVX 2-17.)

         6. Both Golden and Motley testified that all of the money found in the house was from legitimate income sources, including rental properties, his employment at Extreme Elements since 2005, and her recent ownership of the Platinum Lounge. (Testimony of Golden and Motley; Stipulation #5.)

         7. Golden and Motley testified that they kept the defendant currency in the house because they don't trust banks due to the Child Support Enforcement Agency taking money out of Golden's account without his knowledge. Golden and Motley maintained that they kept money in the house, even though the same house had been “home invaded” the previous December, at which time Golden and Motley were robbed of $5, 000. (Doc. # 54, p. 4; Testimony of Golden and Motley; Stipulation #5.)

         8. Golden denied selling drugs for the last 20 years, and specifically denied selling any drugs in 2015, or at the Apple Jax Lounge in 2011 (discussed below). He denied receiving $2, 400 cash from Mathews on August 1, 2015. (Testimony of Golden; Cross examination of Golden; GVX 94B (deposition testimony of Golden).)

         9. Gary Kenst, who testified as a forensic accountant, analyzed tax records belonging to Golden and Motley. Mr. Kenst concluded that there was insufficient reported income on the tax returns provided in discovery to account for amassing $84, 367 in the home. The claimants reported losses for rental income except less than $1000 of rental income reported in 2015. Specifically, with regard to Motley, Mr. Kenst concluded that there was an insufficient income stream from her employment and her recent ownership of the Platinum Lounge to account for her claim that 30 percent of the seized currency was from her income or rent receipts. Although Golden had legitimate income, it was insufficient to account for the accumulation of currency in the house, especially considering that the claimants were supporting a family of ...


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