A Bit More on That $3 Million Confiscated by the DEU (It Took Six Hours and Two Money Counters to Total the Cash)
“The $3.1 million? The majority of that was taken in one marijuana grow,” he explained.
He clarified that the money had been confiscated when the Department of Fish and Wildlife oversaw a large marijuana raid last spring. However, he noted, “Cal Fish and Wildlife doesn’t have a mechanism to seize money, but we can” so the Sheriff’s Office took control of the money.
Fridley, who wasn’t at the scene, said he was told that it took deputies a long time just to figure out how much money they had found. “It took them six hours to count with a money counter,” he explained. “The first machine counts and two guys verify that and then it goes to a second machine.” The amount that goes through the second machine is then verified again. Fridley said he didn’t know what the denominations were but, he explained that during cash seizures, “We generally see twenties. We don’t generally see hundreds.” He then described seeing a photo of the money. It covered a 10′ by 6′ table, he said.
Fridley said that in spite of rumors to the contrary, he doesn’t believe that it would be easy for officers to steal anything from the stacks of money. He explained there were rules about when money can be confiscated, too.
“We seize it and deposit it in a bank,” he said. “Anything over $40k is put on administrative hold.” He added that unless there is an arrest they can’t seize anything under $40k. “And we have to have a conviction, later on, to be able to keep it,” he said.
“When we confiscate money, we have to give [the people who had been in possession of it] explicit information on how to file a claim,” he pointed out. He said there are lots of reasons people might have to explain having a large amount of cash like having just sold a car, or come into an inheritance, etc. He acknowledged, “People can justify having the money.”
In order for law enforcement to keep the money, he said, they have to provide evidence that it is connected to criminal actions. Then he added wryly, “Three million is hard to justify when you don’t have a job.”
After the money has been deposited in the bank, he explained, “We end up in a court hearing with a judge. He decides if [the money] was illegally gained…There is a very set procedure that you have to go through.” If the judge decides the money was gathered through illegal means then the money is dispersed (about 65% goes to the law enforcement agencies involved in the seizure.)
Fridley clarified that the grant that funds Humboldt County’s DEU and which gave them the money to not only eradicate marijuana but also to participate in seizing the three million dollars this spring comes from the Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program which is funded by the DEA. According to the DEA, they began funding DCESP in 1979. Fridley said that although county records only go back to 2010, he believes they’ve “been getting this grant longer than 20 years.” He thinks it is likely that Humboldt County was one of the first places to be funded.
Beyond the money, Fridley explained, the reason that the arrest numbers are relatively low (14 this year) compared to the number of operations conducted (65 this year) is to give law enforcement more time to put together the evidence needed to get a conviction.
Fridley also explained that the lack of arrests have nothing to do with announcements made in local news organizations about law enforcement convoy’s whereabouts. He said that just recently over thirty people had been detained at one marijuana grow where a search warrant was being served but after gathering their information, the people there were released.
“The reasons we don’t make arrests on scene is it starts the clock,” he said. Once an arrest is made, law enforcement has a set time to file charges. “That’s why you don’t see the large number of arrests to go with the large number of operations.” Later, he said, arrests can be made.
“By the time we get to a site, we’ve done a whole lot of background before we get there,” he explained. “We’ve overflown that property and checked on permit status,” etc. He said they only make the arrests when they are ready for the next step in the process to begin.