In 2021 the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, as part of a lengthy investigation into possible human trafficking arrested my client for racketeering in relation to running several Asian massage parlor businesses in the greater Tampa Bay area. It was alleged that all of the proceeds of the businesses were related to prostitution as customers who went to these massage parlors would pay an additional cash fee for a “Happy Ending” to the massage.

Sheriff Chad Chronister not only arrested my client for owning and operating these businesses, but seized approximately $307,000.00 in one of his business accounts and 6 vehicles. Sheriff Chronister, in an attempt to bolster future re-election bids held a press conference wherein he bragged about the money and property seizures and that his office was getting tough on human trafficking, even though there was no evidence that any of the employees of these massage parlors were working there not of their own free will.

The Sheriff proceeded in a forfeiture action against the seized bank account on the theory that the money was derived from the proceeds of the commission of a felony (Racketeering and Operating a House of Prostitution). He proceeded to attempt to forfeit the vehicles on the same theory and on the theory that some of them were used to transport prostitution sales to banks.

After a five (5) day hearing with the introduction of over 100 exhibits and testimony from a Government “money laundering” expert, the court found that there was no probable cause to seized the properties and directed their return to our client. The court found no evidence that the bank account was proceeds of any felony as it was utilized as an account for a separate COVID.19 related personal protection equipment business. The court also found that the 6 vehicles were neither proceeds of a felony or used in a felony.

When law-enforcement overreaches and takes money or property from a citizen it is important that you fight back with a forfeiture law attorney. This huge seizure case was referred to me because of my reputation in the legal community for having vast experience in forfeiture law with great results. This is a very specialized area of the law that even criminal attorneys are somewhat unfamiliar with. If you have been arrested and your property was also seized, it is imperative to find an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is also experienced in forfeiture law.

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Ray Lopez has practiced since 1990, with prior experience as a Hillsborough County assistant State attorney and lawyer for the Tampa Police Department. He handles all criminal charges, from traffic violations and misdemeanors to serious felonies and federal drug charges. He practices in all state and federal courts of the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida, as well as criminal appeals, juvenile court, administrative hearings, and civil forfeiture proceedings.

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