Armored Car Company Victim of Multiple ‘Highway Robberies’ by Cops Files Federal Lawsuit for Recovery of Seized Cash
by Jo Ellen Nott
Armored car company Empyreal headquartered in Pennsylvania says “we’re not going to take it anymore” as police departments in Kansas and California have used pretextual stops to seize millions of dollars being transported to banks from marijuana dispensaries. Empyreal Logistics filed a federal lawsuit in California claiming law enforcement officers have illegally seized dispensary cash the company transports to banks and credit unions for deposit. Empyreal Enterprises LLC., v. The United States of America, et al., 5:22-cv-00094-JWH-SHK.
The Institute for Justice is representing Empyreal and argues that the seizure of the cash from its trucks violate state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution. In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the transportation logistics company said it is “entitled to protection from highway robberies, regardless of whether they are conducted by criminals or by the Sheriff and federal law-enforcement agencies acting under color of law.”
The lawsuit alleges that Empyreal’s constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been violated by police officers in California and Kansas over the past year. “Since mid-May 2021, Empyreal’s vehicles have been stopped and searched by sheriff’s deputies five times, including three times in the past eight weeks in San Bernardino County, California. Three of those stops resulted in seizures of the cash contents of Empyreal’s vehicles: once in May 2021 in Dickinson County, Kansas, and again in November 2021 and December 2021 in San Bernardino County, California.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas for its part had filed a civil forfeiture action against Empyreal three months after the seizure in Dickinson County, arguing the seized cash was traceable to marijuana sales that violated the federal Controlled Substances Act. (Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug under the act.) Empyreal is seeking to recover the money seized in Kansas in the pending civil forfeiture proceeding.
Colin D. Wood, a retired Kansas Bureau of Investigation senior special agent, is prosecuting the forfeiture action. Attorneys not involved in the case question its merits and point out it does not involve the seizure of marijuana but rather proceeds from its sale and note that the dispensaries whose money was seized are licensed under Missouri’s medical cannabis program.
Empyreal has had to suspend its operations in San Bernardino, County, California, and has stopped transporting cash through Kansas because of the questionable seizures. The company has lost customers and has been unable to start new services in multiple states because of its very real concerns of continued pretexual stops and seizures. The suit asks for a Temporary Restraining Order, so “it can resume business operations in San Bernardino County and is not forced to suspend business operations in California and or elsewhere during the pendency of the lawsuit.”
The cash seized from Empyreal’s trucks is not chump change. The haul in Dickinson County Kansas on May 17 was $166,000. If the government prevails, the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Department will get up to 80 percent of the loot under the Justice Department’s “equitable sharing” program. In San Bernardino County, California, the heist was for $700,000 on November 16. The same deputies pulled over the same truck and the same driver on December 9 in San Bernardino County and seized $350,000.
In every one of these seizures, the stop was pretextual. Empyreal says that not a single traffic citation was issued to an Empyreal driver during any of the five traffic stops mentioned in its complaint. The company maintains that federal and state law enforcement agencies are targeting its armored cars “because it is very profitable for those law enforcement agencies to seize the cash proceeds that Empyreal is transporting and keep that money using civil forfeiture.”
Sources: kcur.org, ij.org, reason.com
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