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United States v. $100

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 8, 2014

$100, 641.06 U.S. CURRENCY, ET AL., SECTION


IVAN L.R. LEMELLE, District Judge.

Nature of the Motions and Relief Sought

There are several motions before the Court. The first, is a Motion to Strike Claim and Answer to Complaint by the United States. (Rec. Doc. No. 9). An opposition to this motion was filed by Calvin Thibodaux and Darnay Thibodaux. (Rec. Doc. No. 14). The second, is a Motion for Summary Judgment of Claimant by Darnay Thibodaux. (Rec. Doc. No. 8). The United States filed a response in opposition. (Rec. Doc. No. 20). Claimants filed a reply (Rec. Doc. No. 28) and the Government filed a surreply (Rec. Doc. No. 26). The third, is a Motion for Summary Judgment of Claimant by Calvin Thibodaux, adopting and incorporating all arguments from the foregoing motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 16). The United States did not file an opposition. Accordingly,

IT IS ORDERED that the Motion to Strike (Rec. Doc. No. 9) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. IT IS ORDERED that the Motions for Summary Judgment (Rec. Docs. No. 8, 16) are DENIED. Claimants are hereby placed on notice of the Court's intention to enter summary judgment in favor of the United States sua sponte unless they are able to show cause otherwise as directed below.

Procedural History and Facts of the Case

This in rem forfeiture action arises out of an investigation into elder exploitation. On March 26, 2013, law enforcement became aware that a caretaker and her husband, via power of attorney and other mechanisms, were defrauding their neighbor, a hospitalized elderly man named Sidney Dobronich ("Mr. Dobronich" or "Dobronich").

Law enforcement contacted Romano Investments and Insurance ("Romano Investments"), with which Mr. Dobronich had a large amount of money invested into a brokerage account. For two years, Romano Investments had been wiring a monthly electronic deposit of $1, 200 to Mr. Dobronich's Capital One bank account. On February 13, 2013, Romano Investments was contacted by Darnay Thibodaux ("Darnay"), who identified herself as Mr. Dobronich's neighbor and caretaker, claimed to have power of attorney, and requested $30, 000 to settle his medical expenses.

On February 20, 2013, Darnay presented a power of attorney and last will and testament to Romano Investments, showing that she had full authority and that all of Mr. Dobronich's assets were being willed to her upon his death. Darnay requested an additional $30, 000 transfer to the Capital One account for medical bills.

On March 5, 2013, Darnay contacted Romano Investments and requested a transfer of $179, 000 to the Capital One account for the purchase of a home. On March 11, 2013, Darnay called again, requesting an additional $95, 000 for closing costs. The brokerage firm reached out to Mr. Dobronich's family, prompting an investigation.

On March 13, 2013, Darnay deposited $100, 000 into her husband Calvin Thibodaux's Resource Bank account. On March 19, 2013, Calvin wrote a check to draw from his account $17, 697.93 to finalize the purchase of a Rockwood travel trailer. Cash payments totaling more than $23, 000 were also made to finalize this purchase. When the check could not be deposited by the retailer, Berryland Campers, a refund check in the amount of $19, 000 was issued payable to Calvin Thibodaux.

On March 18, 2013, law enforcement met with Mr. Dobronich, who denied giving permission to Darnay to borrow money, to handle his finances, or to make any transactions on his behalf. Mr. Dobronich did not recall making any large withdrawals from the brokerage account other than the $30, 000 to settle medical bills. He did not recall granting power of attorney; however, recalled that Darnay gave him "a bunch of paperwork."

After adding herself to Mr. Dobronich's bank account via power of attorney, from February 15, 2013 to March 15, 2013, Darnay made withdrawals and debits from the bank account, amounting to more than $334, 000. Law enforcement obtained Mr. Dobronich's Capital One bank account records and determined that most of the money had been withdrawn in cash or used to purchase large items, including vehicles (Nissan Altima sedan and Chevrolet Silverado truck), a tractor and real estate. None of the money was used for the alleged medical expenses or were purchases attributable to Mr. Dobronich.

On March 27, 2013, law enforcement seized from the Thibodaux residence: the Nissan Altima registered to Darnay; the Chevrolet truck registered to her husband Calvin; the tractor; and, Mr. Dobronich's wallet.

On June 5, 2013, Darnay and Calvin Thibodaux were charged with Exploitation of the Infirmed in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 14:93.4.[1] The Thibodauxs were arraigned on felony charges and entered pleas of not guilty on June 12, 2013.

On October 26, 2013, the United States filed the instant Forfeiture In Rem action against: $100, 641.06 U.S. Currency seized from Resource Bank account, number: 1133164, in the name of Calvin Thibodaux; $20, 800 U.S. Currency seized from Berryland Campers for the purchase of a 2013 Rockwood Trailer on the basis of the refund check; 2013 Nissan Altima; 2001 Chevrolet Silverado Pickup Truck; and, 2012 Kubota Tractor with Parker Trailer.

The Court now reviews the law, contentions and alleged facts concerning the Government's Motion to Strike pursuant to Supplemental Rule G and Claimants' Motions for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

Law and Analysis

I. Motion to Strike

The procedures for forfeiture in this case are governed by the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, Title 18 U.S.C. § 983 ("CAFRA"). Under CAFRA, a person claiming an interest in property named in a forfeiture complaint is directed to file a verified claim and answer according to the procedures set forth in the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty and Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions ("the Supplemental Rules"). 18 U.S.C. §983(4)(A).

The Government's Motion to Strike was filed pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(8)(c)(i)(A), which provides that such a motion is proper at "any time before trial" and may be based on the fail[ure] to comply with Rule G(5) or for lack of standing. Rule G(8)(c)(i). The Government alleges: (1) Claimants have failed to establish standing with regard to the Defendant Property; (2) Claimants have failed to adhere to Supplemental Rule G(5)(a) in ...

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