Abdel Alsharfa and Tristan Elcock were definitely up to something. And, they had no real explanation why they were carrying almost $500,000 in cash. But, they broke no laws. The (nonprecedential) opinion merely says they were stopped by a State Trooper while driving through Illinois. While the trooper spoke with Alsharfa and Elcock he smelled too much air freshener and saw multiple cell phones in the car’s console.

Alsharfa told the trooper that the car was rented. The trooper noticed Alsharfa’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy. The trooper read the car rental agreement: it was a short-term, one-way rental from Boston to Las Vegas at a cost of $966.69. Alsharfa said that he and Elcock had not arranged for a place to stay in Las Vegas, that he was a student, and that Elcock was a welder who did not currently have a job.

Suspecting that the two were engaged in unlawful activity, the trooper asked Alsharfa if there were any weapons or illegal drugs in the car. Alsharfa said “no.” When the trooper asked Alsharfa for consent to search, Alsharfa responded, “I don’t know about that.”

The trooper then spoke with Elcock, in whose name the vehicle had been rented. Elcock declined to give consent to search the car. The trooper asked Alsharfa if he was willing to wait for a police dog to conduct an exterior sniff of the car, and Alsharfa responded, “No problem.”

The dog arrived and positively alerted for narcotics, so law enforcement searched the car. They found a total of $495,744 in cash inside a storage compartment in the front passenger side and in suitcases in the trunk. The cash was seized for forfeiture, and Alsharfa and Elcock were arrested. No drugs were found.

The story ends with no prosecution of Alsharfa and Elcock. So, they won the battle, but lost the war. They don’t get to keep the $495,744 because the United States filed a complaint of forfeiture that alleged the money was used or intended to be used in exchange for a drug transaction, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 or was money that was derived from proceeds traceable to specified unlawful activity, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7). No specified “unlawful activity” is never mentioned.

Alsharfa and Elcock petitioned to get the money back. The government demanded to know where they got it. Asserting their 5th Amendment Right to not to incriminate themselves didn’t work either. Choosing to invoke their rights barred them an explanation of the source of the funds. So they had to choose: The 5th Amendment or $500,000. They chose the 5th Amendment and forfeited the money. This nonprecedential Case is to be cited only in accordance with FED. R. APP. P 32.1.

Case decided January 8, 2015.

The criminal defense lawyers at NLKJ represent citizens who face the dilemma or exercising their rights and fighting forfeiture. If you have a similar issue click here for more information.