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427.11 U.S. Currency v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

July 11, 2019

$60, 427.11 U.S. Currency, Appellant
v.
The State of Texas

          On Appeal from the 78th District Court Wichita County, Texas Trial Court No. 166, 034-B

          Before Kerr, Pittman, and Womack, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DANA WOMACK JUSTICE

         I. Introduction

         Reza Vafaiyan appeals the trial court's judgment wherein the trial court denied the State's request for forfeiture of $60, 427.11 in United States currency but ordered that two unpaid judgments against Vafaiyan be paid prior to the remaining funds being returned to him. In nine issues, [1] Vafaiyan argues that the trial court erred by allowing a thirteen-year delay between when he requested return of the funds and finally ruling on the State's motion for forfeiture and that he suffered monetary damages due to this delay; that the trial court erred by denying his request for a court-appointed attorney; that the trial court erred by ordering that the two unpaid judgments be paid prior to his collecting the remaining funds because the prior judgments are "stale" and "void"; that the trial court erred by not requiring the State to produce certain records and documents prior to trial; that the trial court erroneously "switch[ed]" the parties in this case, causing him confusion and prejudice; and that the cumulation of these errors demands a new trial. We will affirm.

         II. Background

         This case arises out of Vafaiyan's arrest and later conviction and life sentence for the offense of money laundering wherein police seized $60, 427.11 from the liner of a trash can and under the cash register of Vafaiyan's store, Krystal Mart. Vafaiyan v. State, 279 S.W.3d 374, 378 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2008, pet. ref'd).

         In 2007, Vafaiyan, who at the time was represented by counsel, filed a "Motion to Release Seized Property"-the $60, 427.11. This filing initiated the proceedings in this case. The State filed a response to the motion and a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Through these motions, the State asserted that it had a legitimate statutory right to wait until mandate of Vafaiyan's conviction for money laundering had issued before it pursued forfeiture of the $60, 427.11 under Article 18.18 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.[2]

         In July 2009, we issued our mandate after having affirmed Vafaiyan's conviction and sentence. From this time on, Vafaiyan proceeded pro se. After our mandate issued, the trial court initially scheduled a July 13, 2010 hearing regarding the State's Article 18.18 motion, but the trial court later rescheduled that hearing for February 8, 2011. During this time, Vafaiyan filed a mandamus petition in this court related to these funds. In re Vafaiyan, No. 02-11-00050-CV, 2011 WL 754394, at *1 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth Mar. 1, 2011, orig. proceeding) (mem. op.). Vafaiyan later withdrew his mandamus petition. Id. This case remained pending in the trial court.

         Years later, the case eventually proceeded to a bench trial. Around a month before the bench trial, Vafaiyan filed a motion to strike the State's motion and requested relief on his 2007 motion wherein he sought the return of the $60, 427.11. In this motion, Vafaiyan also sought 10% interest on the monies, $7, 900 in attorney's fees, court costs, and "$100 per day punity [sic] damage[s]." A few days before trial, the State filed a "Notice of Receipt of Demands Against Funds and Request to Interplead Funds Into Registry of the Court." In the notice, the State listed a $54, 364.41 debt and a $9, 108.69 debt. The $54, 364.41 debt was for a $26, 520 judgment and $23, 035.88 in interest plus court costs, attorney's fees, and post judgment costs. The other debt was the remaining debt from the $10, 000 fine and court costs assessed from Vafaiyan's criminal conviction.

         At trial, Vafaiyan requested appointed counsel, but the trial court denied his request. The only witness at the trial was investigator Mark Ball of the Department of Public Safety, who had investigated the events that led the State to charge Vafaiyan with money laundering. Vafaiyan, however, neither testified nor offered exhibits as evidence at trial. The trial court eventually denied the State's request for forfeiture under Article 18.18 and entered a final judgment granting relief to Vafaiyan. The trial court further ordered that the two outstanding judgments be satisfied prior to the return of any monies to him. After satisfaction of the two judgments, all funds remaining from the original $60, 427.11 plus all accrued interest were ordered paid to Vafaiyan. The "Order Regarding Request to Interplead Funds," signed by the trial court on January 2, 2018, reflects that $72, 107.20 was to be paid into the court's registry. The interpleaded funds remain there pending resolution of Vafaiyan's appeal. The State has not appealed the adverse ruling.

         III. Discussion

         A. The Delay in Trial

         In his first, sixth, and eighth issues, and in part of his second issue, Vafaiyan argues that the trial court abused its discretion and reversibly erred by "allowing" the State to wait more than a decade before trying this case, complaining that the ...


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