Crime & Courts

Trucker appeals to get $550,000 back

TOPEKA — A Las Vegas truck driver who had more than $550,000 confiscated after a traffic stop is appealing a judge's decision to allow Shawnee County to keep the money even though charges against him were dropped.

Eduardo Arencibia also has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Shawnee County Sheriff's Office of violating his civil rights.

Arencibia was driving an empty semitrailer on Nov. 7, 2007, when he was pulled over on I-70 by a Shawnee County deputy. A search of his cab turned up nearly $552,000 in cash, and he was charged with transporting drug proceeds.

The money was taken to a bank and exchanged for a cashier's check before it could be taken to a lab and tested for evidence of drug trafficking. A judge dismissed the criminal charge in May 2008 because the Sheriff's Department had put the money back into general circulation.

A different judge later ruled that the county had the right to confiscate and keep the funds.

Arencibia's attorneys appealed that ruling and filed a lawsuit claiming his rights had been violated by Sheriff Richard Barta and five members of the department.

"There is nothing illegal about possessing money," said Kelly Kauffman, Arencibia's Topeka-based attorney. "There was not evidence to support he had done anything illegal."

Deputy Tracey Trammel said he pulled Arencibia over because his truck wheels had touched the white paint stripe adjacent to the shoulder three times.

Arencibia was not charged in that incident, but Trammel and other deputies searched the truck's cab and found a duffel bag containing bundles of cash. A drug dog indicated the presence of illegal drugs by scratching the duffel bag.

During a further search, investigators found more money stuffed into a suitcase.

Arencibia's attorneys say he did not consent to a search.