Judge orders $43K in seized cash to be returned to California man
Case dragged on three years after 2016 traffic stop
EAGLE — A judge ordered the return of more than $43,000 seized from a California man during a 2016 traffic stop.
It was barely light on the morning of Feb. 9, 2016, when police stopped Kevin Adams for a possible DUI as he was driving west along Interstate 70 through Avon.
During the stop, a drug dog alerted officers when it came across a backpack in Adams’ car. Police found all sorts of air fresheners in the car along with almost $50,000, split into stacks of varying amounts — $43,000-plus belonging to Adams and $7,000-plus to Tyrone Armstrong who was traveling with Adams.
The dog did not find drugs or marijuana, according to court testimony before District Court Judge Reed Owens.
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“It was 7 a.m. on a cold, dark February 2016 morning. I was as scared as I’ve ever been in my life,” Adams said.
Police seized the money and handed Adams a receipt for $43,036.
To keep it, police and prosecutors would have to prove Adams obtained it through some illegal means.
They did not, Judge Owens ruled last week, and ordered Adams’ money returned to him.
No criminal connection
Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum said all the stories police have heard from Adams fit into drug interdiction.
Adams and his attorney Jesse Wiens countered that prosecutors were not able to prove a connection between the money and any alleged drug trafficking, or any other illegal activity.
“They’ve been holding on to a great deal of Mr. Adams’ money, assuming the money was from drug trafficking,” Wiens said.
It was not, Adams said, adding that it took him seven years to save that money.
“It was all my hard-earned money I saved through college. Every dollar, I earned it,” he said.
Adams said he earned some of it working various jobs while living with his mother in Maryland, that some of it came from friends at a graduation party when he finished college at the University of Texas-San Antonio where he also played football, some from jobs he has worked during the last half dozen years, some from student loans and some from an inheritance.
Adams said when he and Armstrong were stopped that Feb. 2016 morning, police went through his luggage and took the money they found there, plus the cash in his pocket and his phones.
He said he packed the money into his luggage so it would be safe.
“I own the money. I earned the money — every single dollar. I worked for it,” Adams said. “I’ve always saved my money. My mom taught me that when I was little.”
Adams said he and Armstrong were headed to Los Angeles with the money to help Armstrong get an apartment. But when their money was seized that plan hit the skids, Adams said. Police seized around $7,000 from Armstrong, Adams said.
Law assumes innocence
Judge Owens said the law does not assume that Adams must have gotten the money through illegal activity. On the other hand, Adams must be able to prove that the money is his, Judge Owens said.
“The law compels Mr. Adams to provide some evidence that the money is his, and that he came by it legitimately,” Judge Owens said.
During their hearing, Prosecutor Amy Padden asked for more time, saying Adams was being evasive, again asserting that the money was from illegal activity.
Adams’ attorney Jesse Wiens objected.
“This has gone on long enough. They’ve been at this since 2016,” Wiens said.
In last week’s one-paragraph ruling, Judge Owens ordered Adams’ money returned to him.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.