As the debate over civil asset forfeiture continues both inside and out of Capitol Hill and state legislatures, the federal government generally keeps to the status quo. That led to the successful claiming of $59,260 found in a gym bag carried by a New York man en route to Florida.
On Jan. 22, 2018, a Camden County Sheriff’s Office deputy conducted a traffic stop on Anthony Gambino, who was traveling southbound on I-95 near Waverly. CCSO Deputy Jim Kelly, according to the report, found Gambino’s license was suspended. Gambino was also said to be acting nervous at the time, and told Kelly he’d recently gotten out of the Army.
Later, it was discovered Gambino was arrested in 2006 in Quantico, Va., “for wrongful use of cocaine and hallucinogens, wrongful distribution of hallucinogens and wrongful appropriation of government property,” for which he received a sentence of eight months in prison, a rank reduction and a bad conduct discharge.
When Kelly discovered the license was suspended, he asked Gambino to get out of his vehicle because he had to be arrested and taken to the county jail. Gambino exited with a gym bag containing what he said was $55,000 cash for use to close on a home in Pompano Beach, Fla.
During this time, two other officers arrived on the scene. Gambino erroneously told one that he had been out of the Army for six years, and the lieutenant on the scene, who had a drug-sniffing dog with him, found a marijuana grinder in the driver’s side door. While at the sheriff’s office, the dog also indicated that the gym bag contained contraband.
When interviewed by a detective, Gambino said around $18,000-$20,000 belonged to him, he’d received $15,000 by pawning jewelry at a shop on Staten Island, and the remaining $40,000 was given to him by Richie Faver, which Gambino referred to both as a cousin and friend.
After the interview, investigators learned the Drug Enforcement Administration had an open file on Gambino for suspected “illegal drug distribution, armed robbery and burglary.” The DEA subsequently seized the money, issued notices to Gambino and Faver, and posted notice of it for 30 days at forfeiture.gov.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a complaint against the cash in August 2018, and Faver filed a claim on it in September. However, the court ruled in December that Faver lacked standing to assert a claim, and no one else came forward to claim the money.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood wrote that even though the cash shouldn’t be suspicious on its own, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holds that such large amounts are “highly probative of a connection to some illegal activity. She also states that the marijuana grinder is a relatively minor matter here, but it still counts, as do the alerts from the dog.
“Fourth, police discovered that Gambino had been arrested and sentenced via military court martial for wrongful use of cocaine and hallucinogens and wrongful distribution of hallucinogens,” Wood wrote. “Moreover, police discovered that the DEA had an open investigation of Gambino for suspected involvement in, among other things, illegal drug distribution. The 11th Circuit has considered prior drug-related arrests and convictions as not only a relevant but critical, factor in forfeiture actions.”
And with that, there was enough evidence the cash was involved in illegal drug activity and the federal government was entitled to the money.