Conflicting Tales Behind Cash Seized by FBI

Westhoff's partner, Vincent P. Schmeltz III, explained that if any money found in the safe consisted of newer bills, it was probably because the Rickses' earnings were "direct deposited in their bank and they withdraw and bundle them in $500 increments. By definition, they are newer bills."

In the future, the couple plan to keep money in the bank and not at home.

Neighbors of the Rickses said that they were law-abiding people.

"I've lived here all my life," Alexis Smith said. "I mean, as far as reputation goes, they are good people. I've never heard about any drug dealing."

The libertarian Institute for Justice, which has long denounced the increased use of asset forfeiture by law enforcement, is assisting with legal assistance for the Rickses. The revenue recovered jumped from $257 million in fiscal year 2006 to $366 million in fiscal year 2007, according to the Treasury Department.

"It's incredibly common to use civil forfeiture power," said Bob McNamara, a lawyer with the institute. "It gives [the government] a free hand to seize any property or cash without having to meet the burdens they have to meet in ordinary criminal cases."

An FBI spokesman referred calls to the U.S. attorney's office in the Northern District of Ohio.

"The case is still pending in our office and we have until June to file a complaint," said a spokesman for the prosecutor, adding that the couple could still be charged with possession.

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