The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY
This case concerns the proposed forfeiture, pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(2)(B), of 863 Iranian carpets allegedly imported illegally in violation of 31 C.F.R. § 560.201. On October 15, 1997, the Court held a bench trial on Plaintiff's claim of forfeiture. The Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law follow.
The facts in this case are undisputed. On March 5, 1996, troopers with the New York State Police witnessed two Ryder rental trucks that appeared to be grossly overweight. The trucks were stopped and diverted to a New York State Police weighing station in Malone, New York, for further examination. Both drivers of the trucks were subsequently found to be operating the trucks without proper driver's licenses. Accordingly, the trucks were impounded.
The New York State Police then notified Jeffrey Bomba, an Agent with the United States Border Patrol, that they suspected the trucks were being used to smuggle goods from Canada into the United States. Agent Bomba searched the trucks and found a number of large bundles of carpets. With assistance from United States Customs, the agents found tags on some of the carpets indicating that the carpets were made in Iran.
The 863 carpets were then seized by United States Customs. Joseph Stephen, a United States Customs Import Specialist, examined the top and bottom of each carpet in order to determine its origin. At trial, Agent Stephen stated that based on his examination he concluded that all of the carpets were made in Iran. (October 15, 1997 Transcript at 68). Furthermore, in questioning by the Court, the Claimant stated the following:
THE COURT: Where did the rugs come from?
MR. FAIYAZ: All of them from Iran, your Honor. Some of 'em old, some of 'em around 80 years old, your Honor, up to 20 years old.
In summary, the Government presented nine witnesses. The Claimant Ardeshir Fayaz did not present any witnesses. Although not germane to the precise issue of the present forfeiture, the Government produced witnesses who testified that Ardeshir Fayaz regularly engaged in smuggling Iranian carpets from Canada to the United States.
The United States bears the same burden of proving probable cause in civil forfeiture actions brought under the customs laws as it does in civil forfeiture actions brought under the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 881. See 19 U.S.C. § 1615. Therefore, "case law developed in cases under section 881, providing for forfeiture of property used to facilitate drug trafficking, applies to forfeitures under 19 U.S.C. § 1595a as well." Nnadi v. Richter, 976 F.2d 682, 686 (11th Cir. 1992).
In both circumstances, the United States must demonstrate that it had probable cause to seize the property. 19 U.S.C. § 1615. Section 1615, entitled "Burden of proof in forfeiture proceedings," provides: