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United States v. $25

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 30, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$25, 290.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY FROM JP MORGAN CHASE BANK ACCOUNT X5478, IN TH E N A ME OF ACC EL INTERNATIONAL, INC., $10, 088.39 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY FROM BBVA COMPASS BANK ACCOUNT X1679, IN THE NAME OF ACCEL INTERNATIONAL, INC., $182, 218.82 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY FROM JP MORGAN CHASE BANK ACCOUNT X6062, IN THE NAME OF UNITED IT SOLUTIONS, $7, 598.31 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY FROM JP MORGAN CHASE BANK ACCOUNT X2342, IN THE NAME OF SPARKPRO SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendants in rem.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JANE J. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Government has requested that the Court stay this civil-forfeiture action, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 981(g)(1), pending the conclusion of a related criminal investigation and trial. Doc. 76, United States' Opposed Mot. to Stay Civil Forfeiture Proceeding (hereinafter, “Mot. to Stay”). Claimant Accel International opposes the stay and has filed a response in opposition to the Government's motion (Doc. 80). Claimant United IT Solutions does not oppose the Government's motion. Doc. 76, Mot. to Stay, 2, n.1. Claimant Sparkpro Solutions, Inc. has not taken a position on the stay. Id. Having reviewed the relevant briefing and the Government's ex parte evidence in support, the Court GRANTS the Government's motion (Doc. 76).

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         In June of 2017, the Government seized two bank accounts from Accel (the ‘5478 account and the ‘1679 account), one from United (the ‘6062 account), and one from Sparkpro (the ‘2342 account). Doc. 54, 2d Am. Compl. (SAC), ¶ 3. After seizing these accounts, the Government filed its complaint in this case. Doc. 1, Compl. The Government alleged that it seized the accounts because the funds therein were obtained in relation to violations of various immigration laws that criminalize fraud in filing visa-application forms. Doc. 54, SAC, ¶ 6. Specifically, the Government stated the property was subject to seizure because it was involved in and/or was derived from proceeds traceable to a conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (fraud in immigration forms) and 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956, 1957 (money laundering). Id. Various parties came forward and filed verified claims of interest in the seized property. Doc. 5, United's Verified Claim; Doc. 17, Sparkpro's Verified Claim; Doc. 18, Accel's Verified Claim.

         On July 11, 2018, the Government brought a related criminal action, United States v. Ravi Kumar Dokku, et al., No. 3:18-CR-341-S (N.D. Tex.), that included a notice of forfeiture and bill of particulars that identified the defendant property in this case as subject to forfeiture. Doc. 76, Mot. to Stay, 2. Based on this related criminal action, the Government now moves that this civil forfeiture case be stayed pending the resolution of the criminal case and investigation. Id. at 4. Accel International is the only claimant that opposes the stay. Doc. 80, Accel's Resp. The Government's motion is now ripe for review.

         II.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Section 981(g)(1) of Title 18 provides that “[u]pon motion of the United States, the court shall stay the civil forfeiture proceeding if the court determines that civil discovery will adversely affect the ability of the Government to conduct a related criminal investigation or prosecution of a related criminal case.” 18 U.S.C. § 981(g)(1). “This language reflects an amendment by the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (‘CAFRA') that ‘broadened the stay relief significantly.'” United States v. $4, 480, 466.16 in Funds Seized from Bank of Am. Account Ending in 2653, 2019 WL 459645, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 6, 2019) (hereinafter, “$4, 480, 466.16 in Funds”) (Fitzwater, J.) (quoting United States v. All Funds Deposited in Account No. 20008524845, 162 F.Supp.2d 1325, 1330 (D. Wyo. 2001)). Among other things, the amendment removed the requirements that an indictment or information be filed and that the Government show good cause. Id.

         “In deciding whether to grant a stay, the court must determine, first, whether a related criminal investigation or prosecution exists and, second, whether civil discovery will adversely affect the ability of the Government to conduct that criminal investigation or prosecution were the civil forfeiture case allowed to proceed.” Id. (internal quotations omitted) (quoting United States v. All Funds ($357, 311.68) Contained in N. Tr. Bank of Fla. Account No. 724001868, 2004 WL 1834589, at *2 (N.D. Tex. 2004) (hereinafter, “All Funds”) (Fish, C.J.)).

         III.

         ANALYSIS

         The parties do not dispute that a criminal action related to this cases exists. See United States v. Ravi Kumar Dokku, et al., No. 3:18-cr-341-S (N.D. Tex. filed July 11, 2018). Claimant Accel does dispute whether the Government has met its burden of showing that civil discovery will adversely affect its ability to conduct the ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution. Doc. 80, Accel's Resp., 3-6. In the alternative, Accel argues that even if the Government satisfied its burden, a protective order would be an adequate and preferable remedy in place of a stay. Id. at 6-7.

         A. Civil Discovery Will Adversely Affect the Related Criminal ...


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