Show Him the Money: Standing to Challenge Forfeiture of Drug Cash

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a very strange claim, a pilot of a drug boat that sought to evade the U.S. Coast guard is appealing the forfeiture of over $8 million in cash that was thrown overboard as he and his companions were fleeing capture.

Petitioner Robert Hovito Von Bommel Duyzing (Van Bommel), a now-deported Columbian national, appealed to the First Circuit after his claim of standing for money that was seized by law enforcement following his arrest was denied.

This raises the question: do criminals have standing to ask for their ill gotten gains?

Bales of Money Thrown in Ocean

The U.S. had claimed the currency shortly after the Coast Guard had physically collected it from the ocean and from Van Bommel's person, and Van Bommel had signed an agreement consenting to his abandonment of the currency.

The money was purported to be part of a courier deal with Van Bommel, for which he was paid $10,000 up front, which was found on his person. The Court continued on the premise that Van Bommel did have standing to challenge forfeiture of the $10,000 but not the $8.4 million.

Criminals & Money

The infamous 'Whitey' Bulger had a significant amount of lottery winnings that were seized by the government, and the court in 2003 determined that several third parties had no standing to challenge the forfeiture.

Unlike the Bulger lotto case, Van Bommel did have a colorable ownership interest in the money on his person ($10,000) but not the $8.4 million that he not-so-casually tossed into the ocean.

Van Bommel had only "abandoned" the 10 G's when he had signed the abandonment form, which he now claims was coerced by law enforcement, and the Court is willing to draw all inferences in his favor.

Standing, Just Standing

The Court makes a decent point about deciding that Van Bommel has standing to contest the forfeiture, without letting themselves be distracted by the obvious merits issue: a convicted drug offender wanting his drug money back.

This was, after all, an appeal on the success of a summary judgment motion, so there is a very small evidentiary burden on Van Bommel to show genuine issues of fact for standing. On the other hand, the First Circuit has declined to consider "inadmissible hearsay" for summary judgment purposes, which Van Bommel's standing claims have in spades.

Bottom Line

Even with standing to the $10,000, Van Bommel will never see that money when the case reaches the merits.

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