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U.S v. LEASEHOLD INTERESTS IN 118 AVE. D

November 30, 1990

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE LEASEHOLD INTERESTS IN 118 AVENUE D, APARTMENT 2A; 170 AVENUE D, APARTMENT 5F; 903 EAST 6TH STREET, APARTMENT 3C; 819 FDR DRIVE, APARTMENT 5C; 500 EAST HOUSTON STREET, APARTMENT 8F; 950 EAST 4TH WALK, APARTMENT 3D; 55 RUTGERS STREET, APARTMENT 10A; NEW YORK, NEW YORK; AND 155 SIEGEL STREET, APARTMENT 3H; BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



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

  MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(i) and 18 U.S.C. § 981(g), the Government moves for a stay of this civil forfeiture proceeding pending the termination of the related criminal prosecution now before United States District Judge Carol Bagley Amon. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted and this proceeding is stayed for all purposes pending final disposition of the criminal trial.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Officers of the New York City Housing Authority Police Department ("NYCHPD") and the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), undertook a joint investigation in 1989 and 1990 of a narcotics trafficking organization allegedly led by Elwin Bruno and Luis Ramos ("the Bruno/Ramos Organization"), which allegedly operated primarily in the area of the lower East Side of Manhattan. The Bruno/Ramos Organization is alleged to be part of a large scale narcotics distribution network, distributing mostly heroin. As a result of an ongoing criminal investigation utilizing telephone interceptions for a period of approximately three months, narcotics transactions were allegedly revealed, which included dealings between Bruno and confederates who operated out of the residences which are now the defendants in this in rem proceeding.

For the period of March 1990 through August 1990, the individuals associated with the Bruno/Ramos Organization were arrested. That criminal case was originally assigned to this Court, and thereafter reassigned to the Hon. Carol Bagley Amon upon her appointment as a United States District Judge (see United States v. Ramos, et al., CR-90-426 [CBA] [E.D.N.Y.]). The criminal trial is presently scheduled to begin on March 4, 1991.

In this related civil forfeiture action, the Government alleges that the eight defendant properties were used by the criminal defendants to facilitate the sale, manufacture and distribution of controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841, which renders the properties liable to condemnation and forfeiture to the United States.

The Government originally moved by order to show cause, signed by this Court on September 5, 1990, for an order: (1) issuing a seizure warrant for the defendant properties in rem; and, (2) authorizing and directing the United States Marshal to execute the seizure warrant upon the defendant properties. At a hearing held on November 9, 1990, a stipulation agreeing to a stay of this forfeiture proceeding pending termination of the criminal case was entered into between the Government and the attorneys for claimants to four of the defendant properties, namely, 118 Avenue D, Apartment 2A; 170 Avenue D, Apartment 5F; 903 East 6th Street, Apartment 3C; and 500 East Houston Street, Apartment 8F, all located in the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York. Accordingly, as to those four properties, this proceeding is stayed pending resolution of the related criminal trial before Judge Amon.

As to two of the defendants, 819 FDR Drive, Apartment 5C, New York, New York and 155 Siegel Street, Apartment 3H, Brooklyn, New York, there have been defaults, and decrees of forfeiture and orders of delivery were rendered by this Court on November 17, 1990.

Ms. Debora Carrero, the claimant for and lessee of the remaining defendant, 55 Rutgers Street, Apartment 10A, New York, New York ("55 Rutgers"), appeared through counsel. Although she is not a defendant in the related criminal action, Jose Santiago, her boyfriend and father of her son, is a defendant, and is alleged to have conducted illegal narcotics activities in the apartment at issue.

The Court commenced a probable cause hearing on November 9, 1990 as to 55 Rutgers, which was then adjourned to November 16, 1990. Sometime after the November 9th hearing, but before November 16, 1990, the attorney for the claimant served a document request entitled, "Claimant's First Set of Requests to Plaintiff for the Production of Documents", consisting of fifteen items, including a request for cooperation agreements, the DEA case file, and Brinks' receipts for the monies confiscated.

On November 15, 1990, at the request of the claimant's counsel, the Court held a telephone conference with the parties, in which the claimant's counsel sought to compel production of the documents set forth in its demand for discovery for the hearing to be held the next day. In response, the Government stated that it could not produce the voluminous documents called for by the discovery request in such a short period of time. The Government also contended that it could not produce some of the documents requested because it might jeopardize or at least interfere with the trial of the related criminal action. Accordingly, the Government requested a stay of this proceeding as against 55 Rutgers. Since counsel for the claimant objected to such a stay, the Court thereafter directed the parties to brief the issue of a stay, and to appear for argument the following day, November 16, 1990, which argument was commenced on November 16, 1990 and was adjourned to November 23, 1990.*fn1

II. THE LAW

The civil forfeiture statute provides that the filing of an indictment in a criminal action related to the civil forfeiture proceeding "shall, upon motion of the United States and for good cause shown" be stayed by the Court (21 U.S.C. § 881[i] [emphasis supplied]; see also 18 U.S.C. § 981[g] ["filing of an indictment . . . related to a forfeiture proceeding . . . shall, upon motion of the United States and for good cause shown, stay the forfeiture proceeding"]). Thus, by the express terms of the statute, if a related criminal action is pending and the Government shows that good cause exists to stay the forfeiture proceeding, then the district court must grant a stay.

In enacting section 881(i), Congress anticipated that compelling discovery in the context of a civil forfeiture proceeding might force the Government to prematurely disclose information in the related criminal proceeding that it would not otherwise have to do (see S.Rep. No. 225, 98th Cong., 2d Sess., 215 reprinted in 1984 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 3182, 3398-99 [section 881(i) "provides for a stay of civil forfeiture proceedings when the government has commenced a criminal case that involves issues the same as or related to those on which the forfeiture action is based. Generally, the courts have been willing to grant such stays of ...


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