The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, District Judge:
This in rem civil action, tried without a jury on March 8,
1990, concerns forfeiture of a 1982 Porsche 928, Three Door,
License Plate 1986/NJ Temp/534807 (the "Porsche") pursuant to
21 U.S.C. § 881 (1988). Federal jurisdiction is
predicated upon 28 U.S.C. § 1345 and 1355.
After hearing the government's case in chief, the Court
orally ruled that, as a matter of law, the government had
established a prima facie case of probable cause.
After hearing claimants' testimony and the government's
rebuttal witness, this Court concludes that claimants lack
standing to contest the forfeiture. This opinion incorporates
the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to
Rule 52(a), Fed.R.Civ.P.
This civil forfeiture action arises out of an investigation
of the narcotics trafficking operation of Domingo Taveras, Jr.
("Domingo Jr.") and Luis and Ramon Gomez (the "Gomez
brothers"). The government's affirmative case was offered
through Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") Special Agent
James Hunt who testified in substance as follows:
On September 2, 1986, DEA special agents lawfully arrested
Domingo Jr. and Ramon Gomez as they were leaving an apartment
building at 302 West 76th Street, New York City. Domingo Jr.
was charged with two counts of criminal possession of cocaine
in the first degree. It is not disputed that there was probable
cause for the arrest.
At the time of his arrest, Domingo Jr. had in his possession
keys to apartment 5B at 302 West 76th Street, which was leased
in his name, and keys to safes located within the apartment.
Immediately subsequent to the arrest, DEA special agents
lawfully searched apartment 5B pursuant to a special narcotics
search warrant and, inter alia, lawfully seized from the
apartment safes $5,550 in U.S. currency and approximately five
pounds of cocaine. Also seized from the apartment were
firearms, loaded magazines, and equipment for processing
Prior to the seizure, the DEA special agents had learned from
a confidential informant that Domingo Jr. owned and drove a
blue Porsche. Following Domingo Jr.'s arrest and the reading of
his rights, Special Agent Hunt asked Domingo Jr. the location
of this car and those the Gomez brothers had been seen driving.
Domingo Jr. told Special Agent Hunt that the cars were at E &
B Operating, Inc., a parking garage located
at 137-43 West 108th Street, New York City.
Domingo Jr. also told Special Agent Hunt that the Porsche was
his and that he had purchased it from M & P Foreign Cars in
Lodi, New Jersey for approximately $20,000 cash with money he
made through the narcotics trafficking operation that he and
the Gomez brothers ran. Domingo Jr. then offered to cooperate
with the DEA special agents in developing cases against other
drug dealers, but his assistance was refused.
That same day, DEA special agents seized the Porsche from the
garage. In addition to the Porsche, DEA special agents also
seized from the garage a 1983 white Porsche, a 1981
Mercedes-Benz, and a 1982 Toyota Celica, all registered to
Marino Gomez, the Gomez brothers' father.
Following his arrest, Domingo Jr. pled guilty in New York
State Criminal Court to a charge of possessing cocaine with
intent to sell, a Class B felony. Special Agent Hunt stated
that Domingo Jr. telephoned him many months later to repeat his
offer of assistance and to request the return of his car to
avoid suspicion and preserve his image as a drug dealer. The
special agent later discovered that Domingo Jr. was calling
Special Agent Hunt testified that in his experience with the
DEA, he has seized approximately one hundred cars. He testified
that registering cars in the name of another person is a common
tactic used by drug traffickers to mask their actual ownership
and avoid forfeiture in the event of an arrest.
The claimants in this case, Flora ("Flora") and Domingo
Taveras, Sr. ("Domingo Sr."), the parents of Domingo Jr.,
testified through an interpreter that they were the owners of
the Porsche, which they purchased for export to and resale in
the Dominican Republic upon Domingo Sr.'s impending retirement.
Domingo Sr. further testified that he purchased the Porsche in
August 1986 from M & P Foreign Cars in Lodi, New Jersey for an
amount in excess of $20,000 cash. Domingo Jr., who is fluent in
English, negotiated the purchase and arranged for the ...