The Truck Stops Here

Pickup owner driven to distraction by vehicle forfeiture snafu

He tried to reach Officer Bob Marquez himself. None of his calls was returned.

So Bailey went in search of an attorney. Two attorneys told him to "give it up," he says.

And indeed, that's what people are often told when they talk to attorneys about getting seized property back.

"Generally, if the property is worth less than $10,000, it isn't worth fighting," says Steve Sherick, a Tucson attorney who is also vice president of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

"Here's how it works," he says. "I call up a prosecutor and say, 'Hey, can we get that back?' and he or she says, 'Hell no, we're going to forfeit the thing.' Then I go back to the client and explain that they're looking at three or four grand in attorney's fees and, since the burden of proof is so low for the state, you might lose. People who don't have a lot of money are finished right there. It's awful."

Of course, this is assuming forfeiture action is being taken against the property. But in Bailey's case, it hadn't been.

Tucson attorney Tom Hartzell agreed to help Bailey find out if his vehicle had in fact been forfeited. For $110, Hartzell would write two letters inquiring about the status of the vehicle, reminding the DPS it had 60 days after the seizure to file for forfeiture, and asking that it be released. So, on February 17, Hartzell sent one letter to the Pima County forfeiture division and one to the Tucson DPS Assets Seizure and Forfeiture Office.

No response.

Hartzell made more than 10 calls to Marquez. No response.

"I have seen people get the run-around, but I've never seen anything quite like this," Hartzell says.

Earlier this month, New Times tried reaching Marquez. No response.

About three weeks ago, Hartzell began calling to track the whereabouts of his two letters. They apparently had been lost.

Hartzell began his preparations to sue. He probably wouldn't make a dime, but "it was the principle of the thing."

Finally, about two weeks ago, DPS officials began looking into the lost truck and its lost paperwork and what was going on with the Tucson officer who wouldn't return anybody's phone calls. What they found, says a DPS spokesperson, was a drug officer desperately behind on his paperwork.

Marquez has been assigned to desk duty to catch up. The DPS also will investigate why Bailey was told his truck was being forfeited when it was not.

DPS, meanwhile, has also found Hartzell's letter dated February 17 formally complaining that the state had missed the 60-day window to take the truck.

DPS has decided to immediately release Bailey's truck.

"This was an unfortunate incident and something we'd like to think is very isolated," says DPS spokesman Andy Vidaure. "Basically, it all goes back to one officer dropping the ball."

Bailey picked up his truck last week. He was ecstatic and effusive in thanking those who had helped him.

But there is one little problem.

At the same time Marquez was delinquent in filing the forfeiture papers on Bailey's truck, he was also delinquent in finishing the report on Bailey's criminal case from seven months before.

Vidaure says the DPS hadn't given up on the meth lab case as Bailey had assumed. Vidaure says the drug charges should be refiled against John Bailey sometime in early May.

"Oh God," Bailey said upon hearing that criminal charges were still awaiting him. "This is hitting me like a bomb. They said they were still coming after me? They told you that? I hadn't heard a thing. I didn't do anything illegal. I just figured they realized that."

But at least he has his truck.

Contact Robert Nelson at his online address: robert.nelson@newtimes.com

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