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U.S. v. ONE 1982 PORSCHE 928

March 14, 1990

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ONE 1982 PORSCHE 928, THREE-DOOR, LICENSE PLATE 1986/NJ TEMP./534807 (AUTOMOBILE), DEFENDANT-IN-REM.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, District Judge:

OPINION AND ORDER

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.

FINDINGS OF FACT

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 cocaine.

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 from prison.

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 ...


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