“If somebody told me this happened to them, I absolutely would not believe this could happen in America.” That was the reaction of a New Jersey man who found out just how risky it can be to carry cash through Tennessee.
For more than a year, NewsChannel 5 Investigateshas been shining a light on a practice that some call “policing for profit.” In this latest case, a Monterey police officer took $22,000 off the driver — even though he had committed no crime.
“You live in the United States, you think you have rights — and apparently you don’t,” said George Reby.
As a professional insurance adjuster, Reby spends a lot of time traveling from state to state. But it was on a trip to a conference in Nashville last January that he got a real education in Tennessee justice.
“I never had any clue that they thought they could take my money legally,” Reby added. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Reby was driving down Interstate 40, heading west through Putnam County, when he was stopped for speeding.
A Monterey police officer wanted to know if he was carrying any large amounts of cash.
“I said, ‘Around $20,000,’” he recalled. “Then, at the point, he said, ‘Do you mind if I search your vehicle?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t mind.’ I certainly didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong. It was my money.”
That’s when Officer Larry Bates confiscated the cash based on his suspicion that it was drug money.”Why didn’t you arrest him?” we asked Bates. “Because he hadn’t committed a criminal law,” the officer answered.
Bates said the amount of money and the way it was packed gave him reason to be suspicious.
“The safest place to put your money if it’s legitimate is in a bank account,” he explained. “He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”
“But it’s not illegal to carry cash,” we noted. “No, it’s not illegal to carry cash,” Bates said. “Again, it’s what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for.”
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “But you had no proof that money was being used for drug trafficking, correct? No proof?” “And he couldn’t prove it was legitimate,” Bates insisted.
Bates is part of a system that, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered, gives Tennessee police agencies the incentive to take cash off of out-of-state drivers. If they don’t come back to fight for their money, the agency gets to keep it all.
“This is a taking without due process,” said Union City attorney John Miles. A former Texas prosecutor and chairman of the Obion County Tea Party, Miles has seen similar cases in his area.
He said that, while police are required to get a judge to sign off on a seizure within five days, state law says that hearing “shall be ex parte” — meaning only the officer’s side can be heard.
That’s why George Reby was never told that there was a hearing on his case.
“It wouldn’t have mattered because the judge would have said, ‘This says it shall be ex parte. Sit down and shut up. I’m not to hear from you — by statute,” Miles added.
George Reby said that he told Monterey officers that “I had active bids on EBay, that I was trying to buy a vehicle. They just didn’t want to hear it.”