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UNITED STATES v. SHETH

January 31, 1992

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, against NAVIN SHETH, RAFEAL COHEN a/k/a "George," and DAVID DARAI, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL B. MUKASEY

 MICHAEL B. MUKASEY, U.S.D.J.

 Defendant Navin Sheth has moved to suppress statements he made following his arrest on August 4, 1991 for possession and distribution of hashish concealed within several diesel engine water pumps imported from India. Defendant David Darai has moved to suppress items seized from his car following its seizure on August 4, including a circular grinding saw, a box of carbide blades, a chisel, stacks of large empty cardboard boxes and numerous rolls of packing tape. The saw, blades and chisel allegedly were to be used to cut open the pumps; the boxes and tape apparently were for packing the hashish. For the reasons set forth below, the motions are denied.

 I.

 II.

 Darai's motion is based on a claim that the DEA agents had no basis to seize his car, a 1978 Oldsmobile, both because they had no basis to believe it was used in connection with a drug transaction and because the car did not meet DEA valuation guidelines for seizure of automobiles. Alternatively, Darai argues that the valuation regulations, which show that seizure is the rule but create an exception for vehicles valued at less than $ 2500, confer on DEA agents impermissible discretion in deciding which cars to seize.

 The relevant statute is 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(4), which provides in pertinent part:

 (a) The following shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States and no property right shall exist in them:

 . . .

 (4) All conveyances, including . . . vehicles, . . . which are used, or are intended for use, to transport, or in any manner to facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession, or concealment of I controlled substances].

 Pursuant to that statute, agents may seize a vehicle to effect forfeiture once they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle was used to facilitate a drug transaction. See United States v. Arango-Correa, 851 F.2d 54, 59 (2d Cir. 1988). The evidence at the hearing showed that codefendant

 Rafael Cohen had driven with Darai in the car on several occasions to meetings at which electronic surveillance disclosed Cohen was negotiating with Sheth about importing the hashish. (Tr. 41) That evidence was enough to show that the vehicle was used to "facilitate the . . . receipt" of a controlled substance.

 When Darai appeared with the other defendants at the warehouse where the pumps were stored, he was arrested. His car, parked near the loading dock of the warehouse alongside a van apparently to be ...


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