Despite finding no drugs or signs of criminal activity, a local Westchester County police squad seized and kept thousands of dollars found in a Black woman’s Rochester, New York, home. After a year and a half, the money has not been returned to the entrepreneur, and she has aligned with a pro bono legal team to assist in her fight for her property.
In October 2020, members of the Rochester Police Department raided Cristal Starling and her then-boyfriend’s West Main Street apartment. Law enforcement suspected the man of selling drugs, based on contraband found at another home, the D&C reports.
After combing through the residence, officers were unable to find any narcotics but did find $8,040 (seizing the funds as evidence), two cars, and arrested the boyfriend, believing he was a drug dealer.
The money was not proved to be connected to any drug sales, and Starling says it belonged to her and was savings to expand her mobile food cart business by acquiring a truck.
Starling was never accused of wrongdoing, even after the boyfriend was acquitted and the two cars were returned, but not her money.
In an attempt to get the money returned after the acquittal, she ran into several obstacles before connecting with the nonprofit Institute for Justice, an libertarian organization that specializes in fighting such civil forfeiture cases.
“After trial, I tried to get my money back,” Starling said. “They sent me through this whole process of trying to get it through the courts and I still did not get it.”
Federal prosecutors maintain they gave her “direct notice” about the procedure for getting her money back and she didn’t follow the rules.
Authorities said the cash was not returned because she missed multiple administrative deadlines to file claims for the seized money. Court documents reveal her first claim was entered three months after money went into default and handed over to the government.
Read full story at Atlanta Black Star here.