Coastal Post Online

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December 2000

Your Money Could Be Tainted With Drugs

By Dennis Niemiec

Fred Lipke of Garden City thought he was helping a friend when he brought $2,000 in bail money to the Wayne Police Department in June.

Instead, he ended up with a bigger problem than his friend, who had been charged with possession of marijuana. Using the state civil forfeiture law, police seized Lipke's cash and refused to return it after a drug-sniffing dog determined the money smelled of drugs. Lipke hasn't been charged with any crime.

Today, Lipke, a ceramic tile installer, is expected to claim his money at the Wayne police station after help from the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union.

The Wayne department is among several police agencies in metro Detroit that seize money, cars or other property based solely on dog sniffs, said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU.

Lipke, 40, said he does not use drugs. "But even though I didn't do anything wrong, it's taken months to prove my innocence," Lipke said Monday.

Lipke does not have a criminal record, according to the Michigan ACLU.

Wayne City Manager John Zech said he's very surprised and unfamiliar with the case and that he has never had any complaints about the city's forfeiture policies. "Our forfeiture policy is similar to that in other communities," he said.

Wayne Police Chief Michael Sumeracki declined comment.

What happened to Lipke could happen to anyone who bails out a relative or pays a parking fine in cash -- especially if it's a large amount of cash, said Wendy Wagenheim of the Michigan ACLU.

COMMENT: It looks like we need to wash our cash before carrying it. Almost 75% of all cash has drug residue on it, making all of us susceptible to seizure of our money if a drug sniffing dog is around. In my mind giving the dog access to the cash to smell it amounts to an unlawful search. If the sniff was done after the cash was accepted, then maybe it should have been confiscated from the police!

Further information on asset forfeiture is available at the ACLU national Web site, www.aclu.org/features/nytimesad121198.html.

PS Your Drugs Could Be Tainted With Money

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