Utah Supreme Court sides with man who wants to recover $500K seized in traffic stop

A jury found he was not guilty of a traffic violation in February, but a Utah man still has not recouped the $500,000 in cash troopers seized when they cited him for following another car too closely in 2016.

Kyle Savely last week got much closer to recovering the money after the Utah Supreme Court ruled in his favor. A lower Utah court had the power to order the cash be returned to him even after the federal government sought to take the money, the opinion states.

The unanimous decision surrounds a Utah law allowing police to seize property they suspect is linked to a crime, even if the owner isn’t charged or convicted. The Tuesday ruling was cheered by civil liberty advocates, who say it closes a loophole that has allowed police to skirt protections in the law by handing off the property to the federal government.

“Law enforcement has been deliberately trying to avoid the requirements of Utah law in a number of cases, including this one. The clear message from the Utah Supreme Court is they better follow the law,” said Savely’s attorney, James Bradshaw.

Not so, said Jared Bennett, first assistant U.S. attorney for Utah. Forfeiture is the government’s legal avenue to defund crime, Bennett said in a statement.

“This decision in no way suggests, much less concludes, that local law enforcement officers are using federal law to skirt state laws,” he said. Bennett contends the justices simply determined that the state had jurisdiction over Savely’s cash, despite ambiguity in the law, and that the federal government would need to obtain an order from the Utah court to take over power of the money.

Under a U.S. Justice Department program, local law enforcement can redeem 80 percent of money derived from the property after it is turned over to federal officers. Critics say the incentive can lead to abuses by police. But law enforcement agencies have said that forfeiture laws help fight organized crime and drug kingpins, while also helping cover costs.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, declined to comment on the outcome of the case.

The decision reversed a 3rd District Court decision that it did not have power to order Savely’s money returned after a federal drug investigation warrant was issued for the cash. Savely has not been criminally charged in a federal drug case.

Justice Deno Himonas in the opinion noted the warrant came several months after the traffic stop. Utah’s district courts can make decisions about seized property from the time police serve a notice of intent to keep the items, Himonas added.

A series of reforms in Utah have limited when and how the agencies can use the money. Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute, said the ruling points to a need for even more oversight.

“This is a signal that there needs to be greater accountability for law enforcement engaging in this type of practice,” Boyack said. His nonprofit has backed previous reforms, including reporting requirements on seized cash and belongings in Utah.

In 2017, Utah police took in $2.2 million in cash and property, which were placed into a state fund that parceled out grants to cover costs of training, equipment and law enforcement task forces. The agencies also received $1.1 million from federal agencies that seized property in the state, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

Civil forfeiture laws have come under scrutiny across the country in recent years, and some states have barred them altogether. North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska have prohibited the seizures before a conviction.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah agrees with that approach, said Marina Lowe, ACLU legislative and policy counsel.

“The takeaway here is that this individual was stopped and these assets were seized simply because they were assets of a large quantity,” Lowe said. “There was no crime that had been committed, and that seems wrong on all accounts.”

Bradshaw would not say why his client was carrying 52 bundles of cash at the time of the traffic stop, but emphasized there was no evidence that his possession of the money was illegal. He declined to make his client available for an interview and said he would soon ask again in court filings for the money to be returned.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he plans to bring a proposal to tweak the law in the 2019 legislative session. He believes police should not have incentives to take cash and items, especially when there’s no criminal action against them.

“To say that the cops could take your money, or your car, or whatever, never charge you with a crime and never give it back, it sounds ludicrous, and most people would say ‘No, you can’t do that. I live in America,'” he said. “This is something that really concerns a lot of people when they understand what’s happening.”


A 52-year old man in Salina, Kansas was taken by surprise after a prostitute he hired through a website turned out to be his own wife of the
past 19 years.

The man had been using the site for some months to hire prostitutes and meet them for sex at motels in neighboring areas. Last weekend, the man told his wife he was going out drinking with work colleagues, when in reality he was travelling to a motel on the outskirts of town.

Upon checking into the motel, the man used his phone to access his regular website used to book prostitutes. According to a statement he made to authorities, he saw the profile of a new “27-year old” woman who caught his attention.

The photo only showed the woman from her neck down, but the man said he liked her body so he sent her a message to see if she was free later that night. She said she was, and they arranged for a liaison at the motel.

Guests in adjoining rooms called the front desk to report a disturbance at around 8 pm after the woman arrived and found that her client was none other than her husband of the last 19 years.

It emerged that the prostitute was actually the man’s 43-year old wife. She was furious to learn her husband had been hiring sex workers, although he was equally angry to learn his wife had been freelancing as a prostitute.



California Plan Would Allow Utilities a Fire Surcharge on Power Bills

California utilities could sell bonds and pass on the cost

to their customers to help cover debt incurred

when their equipment starts wildfires

California utilities could sell bonds and pass on the cost to their customers to help cover debt incurred when their equipment starts wildfires, under proposed legislation outlined on Friday.

The proposal is part of a wide-ranging plan to help shield utilities from bankruptcy and better prepare the state to deal with massive wildfires. The plan needs legislative approval next week but Republicans and Democrats appeared to be on board.

Lawmakers say it’s designed to guard against rate spikes and excessive utility bills, but large power users and ratepayer advocates warn it amounts to a bailout for Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities.

PG&E expects to pay billions of dollars related to lawsuits after wildfires tore through Northern California last fall. Several blazes have been traced to PG&E equipment, though investigators have not released their findings in the most expensive fire that destroyed thousands of homes in Santa Rosa.

California law holds utilities almost entirely liable for damage sparked by their equipment even when the utilities follow all safety rules.

The proposal would allow utilities to finance their debt and pay it off using a surcharge on monthly statements. Lawmakers said requiring shareholders to shoulder the entire cost would make it difficult for electricity providers to raise money from investors, crippling their finances.

“There are going to be impacts to ratepayers. There’s no way around it, and I think we need to be honest about that,” said Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle of Bieber. “We need to make sure the investors have a heck of a lot of skin in the game … but at the same time, we have to make sure they’re still in business.”

Lawmakers released only a broad outline of the proposal that lacked key details, including whether it would apply to past wildfires such as the devastating blazes in 2017.

Large power users and ratepayer advocates reacted with disappointment, warning that the proposal amounts to a bailout that will drive up prices for consumers.

“Any provision that makes ratepayers the insurance of last resort while PG&E shareholders pay nothing and reap the financial benefits needs to be rejected by the Legislature,” Becky Warren, a spokeswoman for the Ratepayer Protection Network, said in a statement.

The proposal was outlined in a conference committee created by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders to deal with wildfires, which have been larger and more destructive as California contends with years of drought.

Aside from utility costs, lawmakers also outlined plans to clear out dead trees and other flammable fuels that help fires grow. The plan includes reducing regulations, creating incentives for private landowners and extending biomass energy.

Lawmakers had considered but rejected eliminating the standard that holds utilities entirely liable for wildfires they cause, instead allowing courts to decide.