FOX 11 Investigates: Bond money or drug money?

A Green Bay woman is fed up that her boyfriend is still in jail, even though she came up with $15,000 bond. The problem: Police say they have reason to believe some of the money is drug money.

“I’ve never been affiliated with drugs or anything like that,” Cassandra Beaster said. Six weeks ago, Beaster gave birth to a little girl. Last week, Beaster’s boyfriend, 31-year-old Allan Murphy, was arrested on a drug charge.

“I have a newborn baby,” Beaster said. “So I’m going to do everything I can to try to get the money together to bail him out.”

Beaster says she borrowed thousands of dollars from her friends and came out to the Brown County Jail to bail her boyfriend out.

When asked why she took cash to the jail, Beaster said, “Because that’s what I was told to do. They told me it had to be cash or credit, so I brought cash.”

But the staff at the jail didn’t release Murphy. Instead, they called in the Brown County Drug Task Force. Officers said a drug dog smelled drugs on the Beaster’s money so they seized it.

“We have proof of where the money came from so I just don’t see how they can hold somebody’s money when they’re showing them where it came from,” Beaster said.

Beaster showed us where she says the money came from. She says $3,982 came from her own tax refund; another $4,070 from a friend’s tax refund; a second friend loaned her $4,000 from her financial aid money.

When asked if any of that money drug money, Beaster replied, “No, it’s not. Not at all.”

But the head of the Brown County Drug Task Force, Lt. Dave Poteat, says not so fast.

FOX 11 Investigates asked Poteat if he believed Beaster’s story. He replied, “Parts of it. She certainly has jobs. But the question isn’t whether or not you can post the money from a certain source. It’s whether or not you did. And we have specific information that says that didn’t occur and there’s actually drug money in that.”

Poteat says he could not tell us exactly what the information is that leads him to believe that. He adds that officers are frequently called out to the jail to investigate suspected drug money. But, he says the officers only seize money about once a year.

Attorney Andy Williams is familiar with one of those prior cases.

“To take cash out to our jail is a mistake,” Williams said. Two years ago, Williams worked with a woman after officers seized $7,500 in bail money. The money was eventually returned to the woman, but only after she was able to prove where it came from.

“Their first assumption is that it’s drug money and until they get a story, they either have to accept or that they like, they won’t stop,” Williams said.

This isn’t just a local issue.

“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in America today,” said Scott Bullock from the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm based in Virginia.

“The government can take your property even if you have not been convicted or even arrested for criminal activity,” Bullock said.

But Poteat says officers only seize money when there’s probable cause. The money is only forfeited after a lengthy investigation and court hearing.

“We’re not doing this on our own or making this up as we go. This is a process used throughout the country,” Poteat said.

One of the most common arguments people use when it comes to suspected drug money is that most money is dirty. In fact, a 2009 study found that 90% of bills in circulation have traces of cocaine. Poteat says that proves nothing.

“That’s not something a dog is going to alert to. That’s so minute it’s ridiculous,” Poteat said.

Poteat says when a dog hits on money, it is really smelling the “…the odor that comes from a drug.”

Poteat even showed FOX 11 an experiment where the county’s drug dog was able to identify several drugs in a parking garage. The dog did not hit on money.

He also stresses that an alert from a drug dog is not enough on its own to warrant a seizure. There has to be additional information. That’s what he says happened in the Murphy case.

“I know she’s giving one version of facts or one version of events that could’ve occurred, if you will. But we don’t believe that’s what occurred,” Poteat said.

Meanwhile, Beaster and her baby are waiting and wondering.

“I’m being held out like I’m on trial,” Beaster said. “Now I have to fight to get something back that belongs to me when I did nothing wrong.”

The Brown County Drug Task Force has asked the federal government to review the case. If the money is eventually forfeited, some of it could come back to Brown County to be used to cover the costs of drug investigations.

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