Cops Take $10K From NJ Couple. They Wouldn't Give It Back.
Police recently seized more than $10,000 in cash from a New Jersey man and his pregnant wife at a traffic stop, but didn’t give it back to them until they raised a fuss about it, according to the couple. And they weren’t even charged with a crime.
“It was disgusting the way we were treated,” Tonya Smith, a nurse at Princeton Medical Center, told Patch. “It was horrifying.”
Smith said she was so stressed out by the incident that she believes it’s why she gave birth to her child a month early.
The incident happened on June 9, when Smith — who was almost eight months pregnant at the time — and Dimitrios Patlias, both of Egg Harbor City, were headed to the Hollywood Casino in Jefferson County, West Virginia after they won a lot of money at another casino.
They had capitalized on several promotional offers and had $100 gift cards on them, along with the cash, according to the couple.
The incident happened just outside of Charles Town when a state trooper pulled over their vehicle, telling Patlias that he had drifted across the white line, according the couple. The police have declined comment.
During the traffic stop, a trooper took Patlias’ license and registration and walked back to his patrol car. He returned and told Patlias to exit his vehicle; Smith figured it was a sobriety check.
Instead, the trooper asked him how much money he had, seeing the bulge of cash in his pocket. Patlias said he refused to answer the question; the trooper then handcuffed Patlias and radioed for a K-9 to sniff the car for drugs.
“I said, ‘Call 911 because this is crazy.’ It was nuts,” Smith said. “I told them ‘I’m a nurse. I wouldn’t jeopardize my job like this (by having drugs).’ “
The West Virginia trooper accused them of smuggling cigarettes, having drugs in the car, and gift card fraud, according to the couple. They searched the car, their persons, and Smith’s purse and the trooper let them go with a warning citation.
But he also took the $10,478 in cash, the 78 gift and reward cards in the car, and Patlias’ smartphone. He took the phone, they said, after the couple wouldn’t give him the password.
The seizure was possibly allowed under West Virginia’s civil forfeiture statute, which says items may be confiscated and subject to forfeiture if they’re connected to a lawful arrest or a legal search. And an officer also must have probable cause to believe that the property was obtained unlawfully.
Still, the couple felt they were wronged, they said, and were taken aback at how the police officers at the traffic stop – who joined the investigating trooper as the investigation wore on for hours – were laughing at them.
Smith said her husband was handcuffed for at least 90 minutes, and despite being eight months pregnant, she wasn’t able to eat until after 10 p.m.
Nearly two months later, and after getting very little help from West Virginia officials, the couple turned to the media in recent weeks for help.
“I was so disgusted at these bogus allegations,” Smith said. “It was ridiculous.”
After the The Charleston Gazette-Mail last week reached out to the police with inquiries about the seizure, Smith said an officer returned her and Patlias’ possessions four days later, they said.
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Smith said: “I felt like I was in a movie. I was like: Oh my God. I told them, ‘I work hard for our money.’ “
Photos courtesy of Tonya Smith and Shutterstock