Lawyers spar over seized money

At issue is more than $400,000 seized by police in connection with a drug investigation.

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WALLA WALLA -- One of the largest local cash seizures in recent memory is now in the hands of a judge.

After a two-day bench trial, Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht Tuesday took the case of "the city of Walla Walla versus $401,333.44" under advisement, saying he would issue a decision at some point in the future.

The money, much of it packed in vacuum-sealed bags, was discovered by Walla Walla Police during a search of a home on St. John Street in July 2006. The search was conducted on the heels of a narcotics arrest at the home involving a 22-year-old man, Adrian Ibarra-Raya.

Although Ibarra-Raya was later convicted of possession of marijuana and cocaine, the sentence was reversed in 2008 when an appeals court ruled police did not have sufficient cause to enter the residence. The city also moved to seize the money and although now-retired Superior Court Judge Robert Zagelow ruled it could keep the cash, the appeals court also overturned that decision saying there were questions that needed to be decided at trial.

That trial took place Monday and Tuesday with Walla Walla city attorney Tim Donaldson arguing the case for city police and attorney Janelle Carman, who is representing Ibarra-Raya, who claimed the money was unlawfully seized and should be returned to her client who is now living in Mexico after being deported.

During the trial, Donaldson called numerous witnesses and presented evidence to build the case that the money found in the home came from drug dealing and didn't belong to Ibarra-Raya in the first place.

"I'm not trying Adrian Ibarra-Raya here," Donaldson said in his closing argument. "What I'm trying here is whether this is drug money."

During the trial, Donaldson sought to link the money found in Walla Walla to narcotics and evidence of drug trafficking found by police in a Milton-Freewater storage locker several days later. In the locker police found about two pounds of methamphetamine, about four ounces of cocaine, about two and a half pounds of marijuana and, among other items, the same type of vacuum-sealing bags and packaging materials found at the St. John Street house.

"All of this evidence overwhelmingly shows money seized at 1035 St. John came from the storage unit," Donaldson said.

In closing arguments, Carman argued that the central issue is "are we going to uphold the Fourth Amendment" against illegal search and seizure.

"We are litigating against an idea that the police can decide that a person is a bad guy and break into (his) house, take (his) stuff and then spend two years developing a case" to keep what they seized, Carman said.

"The forfeiture involves money the police should have never gotten to in the first place if it were not for their illegal actions," she said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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