Nevada Highway Patrol pulled over a former Marine named Stephen Lara in February for following a tanker truck “too closely,” and Lara says by the time they were done, they’d robbed him of almost $87,000.
As reported by the Washington Post, the troopers reportedly seized the money after a drug dog “smelled something.” Lara, age 39, showed them documentation proving the cash was his, saying he had it on hand because he doesn’t trust banks. The incident was captured in multiple bodycam videos published by WaPo—one of which, featuring Lara saying the cops are “taking food out of the kids’ mouths,” is embedded above.
“I left there confused. I left there angry,” Lara told the paper. “And I could not believe that I had just been literally robbed on the side of the road by people with badges and guns.”
Lara filed a lawsuit against the Nevada Highway Patrol on Tuesday. On Wednesday—after he’d lawyered up and started speaking to the press—he was informed by email that the DEA will return his money.
“This is a standard tactic that the federal government uses to try to prevent people from challenging the constitutionality of their cash cow,” Lara’s lawyer Westley Hottot said. “Which is really perverse when you think about it because a person who hires an attorney and has to file a lawsuit to get the money back is the person who needs the fees.”
According to Lara’s ex-wife, the veteran owes around $18,000 in child support. She theorized he was avoiding banks in order to avoid paying her what she’s owed. “But I just don’t see this being some ordeal where he’s selling drugs or something. I just think he’s weird,” she told the Post of the fact that he “just liked to have his cash.”
What happened to Lara wasn’t necessarily illegal, as the seizing of money is part of a Drug Enforcement Administration process known as “adoption,” where federal authorities can seize cash or property they think is connected to an illicit activity without proof. The DEA claimed it would do a “broader review” of Lara’s situation to see what happened.
Stephen Lara plans to seek interest and payment of costs, although Hottot noted federal courts frequently choose not to award those funds to plaintiffs whose cash was given back.