Friday, December 10, 2010

Cops Seize Cash, Refuse Order To Return It

Two brothers who say police unlawfully seized more than $190,000 from them during a traffic stop in Aurora, Illinois won a judge's ruling that the cash be returned but the city has thus far refused to give it back.

Though neither Jose nor Jesus Martinez is charged with a crime, authorities are seeking forfeiture of $190,040 found in Jesus' truck when he was stopped by an Aurora police officer on Oct. 18.

The brothers are businessman with no criminal records.

A Kane County judge ordered the money returned, but the city has refused.The Aurora residents claim the money was family savings earned from a remodeling business.

But during the hearing, an attorney disclosed reports from an Illinois State Police drug task force saying police had received court permission to tap the brothers' phones on the suspicion they were involved in drug trafficking.

Chicago attorney John Murphey, who is representing Aurora, said the city had not been at liberty to discuss the case until today. "We were constrained by a live, serious investigation," said Murphey, who said he had been informed that the phase of the investigation involving the Martinez brothers was over.

Attorney Patrick Kinnally, who is representing the brothers, said the allegations did not change his assertion that the money had been unlawfully seized. "Not a bit," he said. "Let's just see how the evidence plays out."

The new documents allege that North Central Narcotics Task Force officers were listening in on a call between the Martinez brothers in which they discuss Jesus' planned meeting with a man named Charlie in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Aurora. According to the report, Jose tells Jesus, "The package is ready," though there is no explicit mention of drugs. The report said police observed Jesus Martinez arrive in the parking lot at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 18 and talk with another man for a minute before both left in separate vehicles. No exchange is reported between the men, and police apparently did not stop the second driver, who was in a gray minivan.

"I noticed the gray minivan turn from westbound Indian Trail to northbound Orchard Road and leave the area," a task force officer noted in the report.

Jesus Martinez was stopped by an Aurora police officer working with the task force about four minutes later. He and his passenger were questioned, and Jesus Martinez consented to have his vehicle searched. Police brought in a drug dog but no drugs were found. However, they did find a sack of cash.

Aurora police were only involved in an intermediary fashion, Murphey said. After questioning Jesus Martinez at the Aurora police department and giving him a receipt for the money, Aurora police say they transferred the money that same night to the drug task force, which reported handing the money over the following day to the Department of Homeland Security.

The brothers have denied being involved in drugs, and neither has a criminal record. But another brother and a cousin had been convicted of drug charges following a 2002 arrest. Those convictions were overturned on appeal, and the charges were later dropped.

Kinnally filed a complaint on behalf of the brothers about a month after the seizure. In late November, Kane County Judge Michael Colwell signed a temporary injunction against Aurora, ordering the city to return the money because it had been seized unlawfully. Since then, Colwell has retired.

Judge Thomas Mueller, who has taken over the case, set Jan. 5 for a hearing. A call to the North Central Narcotics Task Force was not immediately returned

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