US Forced To Repay Stripper For Money It Seized Illegally

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif.—We've heard that folks who take their clothes off at nightclubs—for money, that is—can make a pretty good living if they're popular and have the right venue. And that was apparently the case for 33-year-old Tara Mishra who, over a 15-year career, managed to save about $1 million for her retirement. Her dream? To buy a nightclub in New Jersey with a couple of friends. Her problem? Nebraska State Troopers.

Seems that Mishra had carefully divided her savings into $10,000 bundles, wrapped them with "hair tie scrunchies" and put them into plastic sandwich bags for transportation by pals (and New Jersey residents and future partners in the nightclub) Rajesh and Marina Dheri, who, after picking up the two cash-filled duffel bags from Mishra, were headed back east in a rented car with Mishra's million in the trunk.

But while tooling across Nebraska (as just about everyone traveling on Nebraska's interstates is wont to do), the couple got stopped by Nebraska State Trooper Ryan Hayes for speeding, though law professor Jonathan Turley suspects that was just a pretense for a drug stop, since Hayes asked to search the car... and the Dheris consented.

However, Hayes was suspicious for a couple of reasons, including the fact that the Dheris hadn't stayed long in Los Angeles, where they rented the car (from Hertz) for the exhorbitant sum of $2,000 per week, and on their trip eastward, had stopped in Las Vegas and Colorado to visit relatives, and had planned to stop in Omaha and Chicago to do the same. And of course, upon searching the car, he found the money.

What he didn't find, however, were any drugs, although a drug-sniffing dog that was brought in to examine the duffels found traces of drugs on the money—big surprise, since a UK study found that almost all countries' currency, and especially ours, have drug residue on them, and of course, this was money that Mishra got from nightclub attendees, one or two of whom have been suspected of using drugs, stuffing cash in her g-string (or wherever).

Also, according to an opinion by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon issued late last week, the Dheris told Hayes that they were merely transporting the cash for Mishra, and that it was part of a deal to buy a nightclub—a fact confirmed by an audio recording made in Hayes' police car while the Dheris were being questioned—in handcuffs, although he told them they weren't under arrest. (Oddly, although Hayes' vehicle was equipped with a dashboard camera and microphone, whose battery Hayes assured the judge had been working earlier that day, no audio of the actual traffic stop was recorded.)

Anyway, the troopers seized ("forfeited") the cash as revenue from a drug business, and had the Dheris sign a “Voluntary Disclaimer of Interest and Ownership”, and an “Advisement Concerning Potential Forfeiture Action,” where the Dheris stated that the cash belonged to them and they were relinquishing all rights to it. (Just why they did that, since the money wasn't theirs, is unclear—though the troopers could easily have told them that if they signed, they could go on their way—a huge incentive.)

Mishra and her husband sued to get their money back, and the case which was filed in November, 2012—the seizure itself was on March 3, 2012—survived several attempts by the government to retain the money, including challenging the Mishras' standing to sue as an "innocent owner."

"The only reasonable conclusion that the court can make is that the evidence presented by the claimant is reliable," Judge Bataillon wrote. "'Lots of money' is not a sufficient basis in and of itself generally for forfeiture. The dog sniff is inconsequential. Further, there is just an overall lack of evidence to support the government’s burden in this regard. There is no nexus between the currency and any illegal activity.

"For the record, the court also finds that the Mishras’ story is credible and has been consistently told by the Mishras and corroborated initially by the Dheris," the opinion continues. "The court finds Ms. Mishra has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she is the owner of the defendant currency... For the foregoing reasons the claimant Tara Mishra is entitled to judgment directing the United States government to return to her $1,074,900 in United States currency or the equivalent in a check, plus legal interest measured since March 3, 2012."

Judge Bataillon's opinion can be found here.