SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. attorney's office must return $79,200 in cash that it seized after linking it to suspected cocaine trafficking in 1985.
U.S. District Judge William Schwarzer said an 11 1/2-month delay by the U.S. attorney's office between the original seizure and its formal claim for the cash was too long. Schwarzer also said the government did not present a credible link between the money and a drug transaction.
The delay, which stemmed from the heavy workload of the assistant attorney handling the case, was "unreasonable" and violated due process guarantees, the judge said. The government "failed to recognize the strong congressional and constitutional policy in this area favoring the rapid resolution of individuals' property right," Schwarzer said.
The money was seized on Nov. 4, 1985, when the Drug Enforcement Administration was tipped that two suspicious people were staying at a hotel near San Francisco International Airport. Agents watched Darrell Lancaster and Anthony Mangano for several days and when the pair left, the agents spoke to them at the airport terminal and noticed a bulge in Lancaster's cowboy boots.
They asked if he was carrying a weapon and in the course of searching him, found $79,200 in cash. A search of the hotel room where Lancaster and Mangano, a convicted felon, stayed showed no signs of drugs or drug paraphernalia, court documents said.