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U.S. v. CERTAIN REAL PROPERTY

August 21, 1990

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CERTAIN REAL PROPERTY AND PREMISES KNOWN AS 218 PANTHER STREET, NEWFOUNDLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, 69 GAULDY AVENUE, STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK; AND 21 NORMAN PLACE, STATEN ISLAND; CERTAIN HONDA ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLES AND YAMAHA SNOWMOBILES; AND A CERTAIN YONG CHANG G185 PIANO, SERIAL NUMBER 0042401, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raggi, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The United States of America moves for default judgment against certain real and personal property which it seeks to forfeit as the proceeds of narcotics trafficking. 21 U.S.C. § 881 (1988). Johnny Eng, indicted in this district in August 1989 for his alleged management of a continuing criminal heroin enterprise, United States v. Eng, 89 CR 255 (August 24, 1989), and presently fighting extradition from Hong Kong to the United States in connection with these charges, opposes the entry of a default. Specifically, he moves for release of all subject property from the government's control, dismissal of those claims brought against property located outside this district and for an indefinite stay of these proceedings pending the conclusion of his United States criminal case.

For the reasons stated herein, this court finds that Eng lacks standing to challenge forfeiture of property to which he has never filed a formal claim. Moreover, because Eng is a fugitive from justice on a criminal case pending in this district, he is not entitled to be heard in this related civil matter. His motions are denied and judgment by default entered in favor of the United States.

Factual Background

On December 12, 1989, the United States commenced this in rem forfeiture action against three residences and various items of personal property, all of which are alleged to have been purchased either directly or indirectly by Johnny Eng with the proceeds of his narcotics trafficking. Potential claimants were notified, including Eng, who was then in the custody of Hong Kong authorities, having been arrested on August 17, 1989 pursuant to a request made by the United States under Article VIII of the Extradition Treaty between this country and the United Kingdom. On December 21, 1989, Eng was ordered extradited by the Magistrates Court of Hong Kong. He is presently challenging this decision to the Hong Kong High Court, which heard his petition for habeas corpus in May 1990.

Also notified of this forfeiture action were Lori Eng, Johnny Eng's wife and the listed co-owner with him of the 69 Gauldy Avenue property; Mai Yuk Law, Lori Eng's sister and with her the co-owner of the 21 Norman Place property; Chik Kun Wong, Johnny Eng's uncle and the owner of the 218 Panther Street property, and various financial institutions holding mortgage notes on the subject premises.

On March 15, 1990, verified notices of claim were filed as to certain of the subject property by Chik Kun Wong and by Lori Eng. Neither filed timely answers to the complaint nor responses to interrogatories as required by Rule C(6) of the Supplemental Rules of Civil Procedure for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims. See Mercado v. U.S. Customs Service, 873 F.2d 641, 645 (2d Cir. 1989) (Rule C(6) sets forth procedures for making claim in in rem forfeiture proceeding).

That same day, Johnny Eng, without filing any notice of claim, filed a motion returnable May 25, 1990: (1) to order the government to show cause why the subject property should not be released from arrest given the alleged failure to give him proper notice*fn1; or (2) to dismiss such claims as related to property outside the geographical limits of this district*fn2; or (3) to stay forfeiture proceedings until the conclusion of his criminal case.

On May 13, 1990, the government moved for entry of default judgment against the subject property, noting specifically the failure of any claimant to file a timely answer. Lori Eng and Chik Kun Wong promptly cross-moved for leave to file untimely answers.

Oral argument on the various motions revealed that no party's claim alleged an interest in certain of the defendant properties, i.e., the all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and the 21 Norman Place, Staten Island, residence. Accordingly, on May 29, 1990, the court entered judgment in favor of the United States as to these items. In that same order, the court denied default judgment as to those properties claimed by Ms. Eng and Mr. Wong, granting them leave to file answers on or before June 4, 1990, with the proviso that they simultaneously answer interrogatories, as provided for in Rule C(6). The court also reserved on the motion of Johnny Eng to permit him to file papers in support of his claim of entitlement to be heard.

In fact, neither Ms. Eng nor Mr. Wong filed answers or responses to interrogatories by June 4, 1990. Accordingly, on June 6, 1990, the court entered judgment in favor of the United States against the property known as 218 Panther Street, Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, and against the defendant piano. It further entered judgment in favor of the United States as against any interest that Ms. Eng might have in the 69 Gauldy Avenue, Staten Island, property.

Discussion

The sole issue before this court is whether an individual, such as Johnny Eng, who has filed no formal notice of claim and who is actively engaged in opposing his extradition to the United States to stand trial on related criminal charges, is, nevertheless, entitled to be heard in opposition to the government's attempt to forfeit civilly property that is alleged to be the proceeds of his illegal conduct. This court finds that he is not.

Before an individual can be heard to contest a forfeiture claim, he must demonstrate standing. Mercado v. United States Customs Service, 873 F.2d at 644. Standing is established through the procedures set forth in Rule C(6), requiring a party to file a claim within ten days after process has been executed or within such additional time as may be allowed by the court, and to file an answer within twenty days after the filing of the claim. See id. ...


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