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United States v. $116

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

November 25, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff,
$116, 850 in United States Currency, Defendant In Rem.


JOSEPH F. ANDERSON, Jr., District Judge.


The United States brings this in rem civil forfeiture action pursuant to Rule G(2) of the Supplemental Rules of Admiralty and Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Claims ("Supplemental Rules"). Presently before the court is Claimant Hung "Byron" Tran's ("Tran") Motion to Dismiss, [ECF No. 10], per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Rule G(8) of the Supplemental Rules. The Motion to Dismiss is ripe for disposition after being fully briefed and oral arguments heard on November 24, 2014.


On May 2, 2014, the Government filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture against $116, 850 in U.S. currency, alleging that the money was furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq.; proceeds traceable to such an exchange; or money used and intended to be used to facilitate a violation of the Controlled Substances Act; property involved in money laundering; property involved in an illegal money transmitting business or proceeds of some other form of specified illegal activity and is, therefore, subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C). [ECF No. 1].

On May 12, 2014, the Government served notice of the judicial forfeiture action on Tran, Maria Troung, and Alexander Troung. [ECF No. 7]. On May 23, 2014, Tran filed a Verified Claim asserting his interest in the $116, 850 in United States Currency ("Defendant Currency"). [ECF No. 8]. No additional claims have been filed and the time has expired for any person to file a claim to the Defendant Currency.


As set forth in detail in the Complaint, on December 13, 2013, a rented vehicle driven by Tran was stopped for speeding while traveling northbound on Interstate 95 in Sumter, South Carolina. [ECF No. 1, p. 5]. Shortly after approaching the vehicle, the Sumter County officer who conducted the stop observed that Tran's hands were shaking and that he was sweating. Id. The officer noted that Tran was unusually nervous for an ordinary traffic stop. [ECF No. 1, p. 7]. The officer also observed three cellular phones amongst the two passengers, one of which appeared to be a disposable flip phone.[1] [ECF No. 1, p. 6]. Tran informed the officer that he was traveling home to Virginia from Orlando, Florida. Id. According to Tran, his girlfriend, Maria Troung, lives in Orlando and the passenger in the vehicle, Alexander Troung, was her eighteen year-old son. Id. Tran maintained that he was taking Troung to Washington, D.C., so that Troung could take a train to New Jersey to visit his girlfriend. Id. However, when the officer spoke to Troung, Troung told the officer that he was traveling to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to visit his father and denied having a girlfriend. Id.

The officer continued to question Tran. The officer asked Tran to open the trunk, and Tran voluntarily opened the trunk. [ECF No. 1, p. 6]. The officer observed two suitcases in the trunk, and Tran indicated a black Samsonite suitcase as his own. Id. When asked whether he was traveling with a large amount of cash, Tran hesitated to respond to the officer. [ECF No. 1, p. 7]. The officer asked for consent to search the vehicle; however, Tran declined. Id. The officer then requested Tran exit the vehicle and called a drug dog to the scene. Id. The drug dog alerted to the presence of the odor of narcotic substances on the suitcase Tran identified as his own. Id. The officer located the Defendant Currency in 12 rubber-banded bundles inside Tran's suitcase. Id.

After the discovery of the currency, Tran informed the officer that the total amount of currency was $110, 000 and maintained that he was "holding" the currency for his girlfriend who transferred it to him while he was in Orlando. Id. Tran insisted that his girlfriend did not ask him to deliver it to anyone. Id. Tran also stated that his girlfriend does use banks and has a bank account. [ECF No. 1, p. 8]. When offered the opportunity to resolve the matter by allowing the officer to contact his girlfriend to verify the owner and source of the currency, Tran declined to disclose his girlfriend's name, telephone number or her source of income or employment and stated that he had only been dating her for a couple of months. [ECF No. 1, p. 7].

The officer seized the currency for purposes of forfeiture. [ECF No. 1, p. 8]. The Defendant Currency was comprised of 5, 820 twenty-dollar bills ($116, 400), 5 fifty-dollar bills ($250) and 2 one hundred-dollar bills ($200). Id. According to the Complaint, this distribution of denominations is typical of currency involved in drug trafficking and/or the proceeds thereof. Id.


A civil forfeiture action is an in rem proceeding brought by the Government as plaintiff asserting that "all right, title, and interest in [the defendant] property" has vested in "the United States upon commission of the act giving rise to forfeiture." 18 U.S.C. § 981(f). A civil forfeiture action is governed by the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 ("CAFRA"), Pub.L. No. 106-185, 114 Stat. 202 (codified in part at 18 U.S.C. § 983). Under CAFRA, the Government ultimately must prove, "by a preponderance of the evidence, that the property is subject to forfeiture[.]" 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(1). "[I]f the Government's theory of forfeiture is that the property was used to commit or facilitate the commission of a criminal offense, the Government shall establish that there was a substantial connection between the property and the offense." 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(3). "However, the Government need not satisfy the burden imposed by § 983(c)(3) at the initial pleading stage." United States v. $78, 850.00 in U.S. Currency, 444 F.Supp.2d 630, 637-38 (D.S.C. 2006) (citing United States v. $200, 255.00, 2006 WL 1687774, *7 (M.D. Ga. June 16, 2006)).

In a forfeiture action Complaint, the Government must "state sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the [G]overnment will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial." SUPP. R. G(2)(f). The "reasonable belief" standard in Rule G(2)(f) is the same standard for sufficiency of a complaint contained in the previously applicable Rule E(2), and cases interpreting it. SUPP. R. G(2) 2006 advisory committee notes. See, e.g., United States v. Mondragon, 313 F.3d 862, 864 (4th Cir. 2002); $78, 850.00, 444 F.Supp.2d at 638. Rule E(2)(a) required, and still requires that the "complaint... state the circumstances from which the claim arises with such ...

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