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Miami Racketeering and Forfeiture

Sometimes criminal racketeering in Miami involves drugs and these drugs may be seized and forfeited as the result of an investigation. Recently, an appellate court heard a challenge to a lower court’s finding of probable cause sufficient for the seizure of property, currency and accounts greater than $975,000.00 and a BMW. The appellate court determined that there was probable cause to sustain the seizure and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The case arose from a synthetic marijuana product enterprise. Law enforcement officers looked into three stores owned by a business that sold several synthetic marijuana products. The detectives were involved in a minimum of 80 undercover buys of prepackaged synthetic cannabinoids that were meant to be consumed. Because of the investigation, the business’s property was seized, and a forfeiture proceeding was put in place under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act and the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which is Florida Statutes section 895.05. The government claimed the property it was taking had been acquired through the sale of synthetic marijuana.

After the property was seized, the business moved to dismiss forfeiture action for lack of probable cause and motion to return assets. The government and defense agreed the motions could be presented without a hearing but after considering a narcotics officer’s deposition. The lower court found probable cause to support the seizure and denied the motions. It held that a Schedule I substance cannot be adulterated or misbranded under Florida Statute Chapter 499.

The business argued on appeal that the lower court had made a mistake in holding that the Schedule I substances were capable of being mislabeled under the Florida Drug and Cosmetic Act, Chapter 499. It held that nearly all substances that it allegedly possessed and sold were Schedule I controlled substances.

There are two stages to forfeiture proceedings. First is a seizure stage, during which the lower court looks at whether a seizure is supported by probable cause to believe the property was used in violation of the Act. The next stage is the forfeiture stage. The defendant argued that the lower court had made a mistake in deciding illegal drugs were capable of being adulterated or misbranded in violation of Chapter 499, thereby inappropriately making a decision about forfeiture during the seizure phase and making a finding of guilt.

The appellate court disagreed. It explained the lower court had determined that this type of violation could only occur if drugs being sold were illegal. It looked at whether Schedule I substances were able to be adulterated or misbranded under Chapter 499. There was no determination made about whether there was a violation. No findings of fact were made; instead, the lower court relied on hypotheticals. The defendant argued that there needed to be a medical or legitimate use in the marketplace for a drug to be controlled by Chapter 499. A drug under Chapter 499 is a substance meant to impact the structure or function of the body. The synthetic drug in question was marketed as a legal high, which means it was intended to impact the function or structure of the human body.

The appellate court explained that Florida Statute section 499.0051(12) criminalizes the false advertisement, misbranding and adulterating of “any drug.” The defendant argued that even if a law permitted any drug whether legal or not, the appellate court should decide that the lower court’s interpretation would result in absurdity. The appellate court found this to be a meritless argument. It explained the purpose of the law was to protect the public from both physical harms as well as merchandising deceit.

The appellate court agreed with the lower court there was probable cause for the seizure and affirmed the lower court’s order.

Theft is a serious charge. If you’re accused of, investigated for or charged with a white-collar crime in Miami, you should hire a skillful criminal defense attorney. Call The Hoffman Firm at (305) 928-1669, or contact us via our online form.

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