Conflicting Tales Behind Cash Seized by FBI

Retired steelworker Luther Ricks is either a neighborhood drug dealer whose ill-gotten gains were rightfully seized by the authorities.

Or the 64-year-old is an ailing man whose $400,000 life savings was taken by the police after they found marijuana he was using to manage the pain of arthritis and shingles.

Those are the conflicting accounts of Hicks painted by the police in Lima, Ohio, and his lawyers in a case that has become a cause celebre to critics of asset forfeiture laws.

It all started in the summer when the home of Ricks and his wife, Meredith, was robbed by thieves who stabbed his son, prompting Ricks to grab a gun and fatally shoot one of them.

When police arrived to investigate the incident, they found 321 grams of marijuana along with traces of crack cocaine, said Lt. Jim Baker, supervisor for investigative services at the Lima police department.

They returned with a search warrant and seized a safe filled with $403,503, wedding rings, titles to several cars and pieces of jewelry, later turning over the assets to the FBI.

Through the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture program, law enforcement authorities investigating criminal activity can remove the proceeds of crime and other assets.

Now, the Rickses have filed a claim to get their money back while the's office in the Northern District of Ohio decides whether to pursue a claim against the couple for drug possession, among other charges.

In the meantime, the Rickses claim that they're having a hard time making ends meet while the government holds their money.

"I've been using Social Security to pay bills," Luther Ricks told "But it hasn't been easy. We don't work."

Ricks' wife, Meredith, disputed police accounts of what they found in the house.

"There was no crack cocaine in the house," she said. "That was pure shea butter. They're just a bunch of lies. They had me selling pills, which are prescribed for chronic back pain."

The police assert that the thieves targeted the house because Ricks was dealing marijuana and that authorities also found drug paraphernalia in the house.

"During the investigation of the shooting, we did a search warrant and came across the drugs and drug paraphernalia -- a scale, a pipe and small amount of crack cocaine," Baker said.

"In interviewing the suspect that survived [Diondrake L. Sims II, who pleaded guilty to burglary in February], in his statement, he said that they went there because [Ricks] has a lot of money and that he sold drugs."

Baker, who adds that the Rickses have no criminal history aside from a few misdemeanors including domestic violence and petty theft, justified the seizure under asset forfeiture laws.

"We looked at the totality of the situation -- the statement made by the suspect that lived, the marijuana in the house, the fact that the bills in the safe were newer bills. It's a combination of things."

The lawyers for the Rickses claim that the police are looking for reasons to justify taking the money.

"The government never brought charges against Mr. or Mrs. Ricks for drug possession at all," said Bryan Westhoff, a corporate lawyer from Dewey & LeBouef who is working the case pro bono.

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