WALLA WALLA -- The city of Walla Walla has prevailed in an appellate court decision involving one of the largest cash seizures by police in recent memory.
In an opinion issued Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Washington state Court of Appeals in Spokane upheld an earlier Walla Walla County Superior Court ruling that more than $400,000 seized by police in 2006 did not belong to the man who ultimately claimed it was his.
Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht determined in early 2010 that the city "carried its burden of proof" to support its contention that the $401,333.44 was used in or was the product of illegal drug activity.
Schacht also ruled that Adrian Ibarra-Raya, the man who claimed ownership, is not the rightful owner. And the Court of Appeals agreed.
The higher court wrote this week that "substantial untainted evidence supports (Schacht's) finding that Mr. Ibarra-Raya is not the rightful owner of the cash, which in turn supports its conclusion that he is not entitled to its return."
The money, much of it packed in vacuum-sealed bags, was discovered along with a small quantity of drugs by police during an early-morning search of a home on St. John Street in July 2006. The search was conducted after police arrested Ibarra-Raya, who was 22 years old at the time, as he attempted to leave out the home's back door.
City Attorney Tim Donaldson filed a civil action to have the money forfeited to the Police Department under Washington's Uniform Controlled Substances Act and Superior Court Judge Robert Zagelow, who has since retired, ruled in the city's favor. But the Court of Appeals overturned that decision in 2009, saying there were questions that needed to be decided at a trial.
Schacht then held a two-day trial in December 2009, issuing his ruling the following month.
Ibarra-Raya then appealed to the Court of Appeals through his principal attorney, Janelle Carman, contending that Schacht made numerous errors in reaching his decision. But in its ruling this week, the Court of Appeals decided Schacht made sufficient findings, including that Ibarra-Raya once had denied ownership of the cash.
Carman wasn't available Thursday to comment on whether Ibarra-Raya would ask the state Supreme Court to review the case.
Donaldson said it should be over, at long last. "There's no good reason this case should go any further," he said. "There's no good reason it should have gone on to this point."
Ibarra-Raya has transferred his interest in the money to the state of Oregon in connection with a plea bargain related to his prosecution for drug crimes charged there.
"He won't get the money back no matter what he does," Donaldson said.
Meanwhile, the money has been placed in a financial account, he added. Once completely cleared to be spent, 10 percent of the cash will go to the state under a requirement of state law and the rest must be used by the city for the war on drugs.
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.