Man files suit against state police for seizure

Motorist says $20,000 was illegally confiscated

May 31, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Rosedale motorist has filed suit seeking the return of $20,000 in cash that he claims state police illegally seized when they found marijuana in his car during a traffic stop along Interstate 95.

William L. DeSantis Jr., 43, of Hamiltowne Circle, says in papers filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court that state police should not have kept the cash they found in his suitcase after a stop near Perryville.

DeSantis was charged with driving under the influence Sept. 10, 1999, after a trooper pulled him over for following a car too closely at 70 mph and observed he had bloodshot eyes and alcohol on his breath. DeSantis admitted to the trooper that he had "three or four beers" that day, according to the suit.

Police arrested him, searched his 1987 Toyota and found three bags of marijuana in a duffel bag, according to the suit. DeSantis also was charged with possession and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

DeSantis said in an interview yesterday that he was convicted of marijuana possession last May in Cecil County Circuit Court and that other charges were dropped.

His suit alleges that state police should have obtained a court order before they turned over his $20,000 to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He is seeking return of the money, plus 6 percent interest.

DEA agents, who often divide proceeds confiscated from drug dealers with local police departments, gave the state police $16,000 and kept $4,000, according to the suit.

Assistant Attorney General Betty Stemley Sconion, who represents the state police, said the agency is not required to obtain a court order before turning drug proceeds over to the DEA.

Maryland's drug forfeiture laws allow police to seize a drug dealer's cash and property when there is evidence that they were profits from illicit drug trafficking. Over the years, police have confiscated millions of dollars in cash, as well as other personal property.

DeSantis said the cash was not drug money, but his "life savings," earned working for electrical contractors. He said he was on his way to a three-week vacation with his parents in Ocean City when he was stopped.

"It was stupid of me to take it with me, but I didn't feel safe leaving it at home," he said. "I don't put money in banks."

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