An armored vehicle company claims that officers from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stole legally obtained cash from drivers and clients.
Empyreal Logistics, a company that transports money for dispensaries and other companies, filed a civil suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Eastern Division. Empyreal does not even transport cannabis itself—just large amounts of cash for cannabis-related companies. The company operates in multiple states.
Police and federal agents learned the trucks catered to cannabis businesses, so they picked off trucks of cash as though they were sitting ducks, even though the businesses are state-legal.
The legal team for Empyreal accuses the FBI and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department of allegedly scheming to illegally pull over company vehicles and seize money from its clients.
The Institute for Justice reports that during five specific stops, no arrests or tickets were given—yet they led to forfeiture of all deposits in the trucks, anyways. Three particular stops alone amounted to over $1 million in cash.
“Specifically, Plaintiff Empyreal Logistics, a cash-in-transit company operating in 28 states, challenges the ongoing stops and searches of its vehicles, and the seizure of cash and other property lawfully transported therein,” the civil suit reads.
It continues, “These unlawful and unconstitutional stops, searches, and seizures are orchestrated by the Department of Justice and its subordinate law-enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with local law-enforcement officials, including the San Bernardino County Sheriff. Together, these law-enforcement agencies are targeting armored vehicles owned by Empyreal because those vehicles are transporting cash proceeds from state-legal medical and adult-use cannabis dispensaries to legitimate financial institutions such as banks and credit unions. Notably, Empyreal never transports any actual cannabis.”
What is especially alarming is the stops involving the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department—where cannabis is legal.
The problem isn’t limited to California. Beginning in May 2021, Empyreal’s vehicles have been stopped and searched by sheriff’s deputies five times, with two incidents in Kansas and three more in San Bernardino County, California. The three San Bernardino incidents took place over the course of just eight weeks, including the most recent stop January 6.
One incident involved an employee of Empyreal during a traffic stop on May 18 in Dickinson County, Kansas after being collected by the employee from medical cannabis dispensaries in Missouri. In that incident, Empyreal is seeking the return of $165,000 in cash.
Transporting large amounts of cash is due to the federal legal status of cannabis, which bars most cannabis companies from dealing with banks.
As it turns out, some legal experts pointed to a motive for the questionable seizures.
The Institute for Justice notes that each time officers seized money (legal proceeds), they turned it over to federal agencies to go through federal forfeiture protocols. If successfully forfeited, up to 80 percent of the money taken through the federal “equitable sharing” program would then return to local sheriffs to spend as they please.
Furthermore, companies such as Empyreal are considered essential, because moving the cash off of properties reduces the danger level for robberies.
While sheriffs may think they can use the federal equitable sharing program as a loophole around state law, the forfeitures are not allowed under federal law either.
JD Supra notes that despite a recent Supreme Court ruling under Timbs v. Indiana, “asset forfeiture laws still stand as uniquely effective enforcement tools that the county’s federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have at their disposal, posing a threat to the recreational cannabis market.”
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