Truck company owner gets seized money back
March 22, 2023
Money seized from a truck driver traveling to an auction to buy a truck has finally been returned to him. The ordeal started 2½ years ago.
Jerry Johnson’s $39,500 in cash was seized Aug. 17, 2020, at baggage claim for Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. He had flown in from Charlotte, N.C., to attend a truck auction. He had the money in cardboard boxes in his carry-on backpack and his checked luggage.
Johnson owns Triple J Logistics, which is licensed in Maryland. He works from the Charlotte, N.C., area hauling dry van freight.
Johnson is glad to report he’s is still in business despite the money being seized.
“It has been a very long time trying to get that money back. It’s been a very stressful situation,” Johnson told Land Line.
He was never charged with a crime. Law enforcement officers seized his money, saying it smelled of marijuana. They attempted to keep the money through civil asset forfeiture.
There was a prolonged legal battle to get the money back. A trial judge ruled Johnson did not have standing to contest the forfeiture of his money because he couldn’t prove it was his. A nonprofit public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, then accepted Johnson’s request to step in and appeal the case.
In May 2022, Johnson won the appeal to continue fighting to get his money back.
Even now, the battle is not over, says an Institute for Justice attorney.
“Jerry’s case potently illustrates the injustice of civil forfeiture even when someone ultimately gets their property back,” Dan Alban, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, said in a statement to the media. “It took 31 months for Jerry to finally get his savings back even though he was never even charged with a crime. In the middle of the COVID pandemic, Jerry had to find a way to keep operating his small trucking business after its working capital was seized while also scraping together money to hire an attorney (before the Institute for Justice took his case). We’re glad that the money has been returned, but Jerry still needs to be made whole.”
The state returned Johnson’s money and paid less than 0.8% in accrued interest, but it refuses to pay his attorneys’ fees and interest at Arizona’s statutory rate for judgments, according to the Institute for Justice statement. This leaves Johnson undercompensated for the years his money was kept from him and for what he paid out of pocket to an attorney before the Institute for Justice took on his case.
“The case will continue, as (the Institute for Justice) has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and opposes the state’s motion,” according to the law firm’s statement.
Johnson said he was glad to have to money back.
“It’s a blessing to finally have my savings back so that I can invest it in my business,” Johnson said in the law firm’s statement “That the government could take my money, never charge me with a crime but hold onto my savings for so long is outrageous. It created a tremendous financial burden for me and my family, and there were a lot of business opportunities I’ve missed out on because that money was just sitting in a government account.”
Shortly after Johnson’s money was seized in 2020, in May 2021 state law changed to require prosecutors to convict someone before property can be taken through civil asset forfeiture. Johnson’s case, however, was prosecuted under the previous statute. LL