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$1M Seized During Traffic Stop Must Go Back to Stripper: Judge

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 25, 2013 2:18 PM

A former California stripper is set to get more than $1 million in cash returned to her after Nebraska state troopers seized the bills during a traffic stop in 2012.

Former exotic dancer Tara Mishra won her case in federal court to have the $1,074,900 returned, reports the Lincoln Journal Star. Mishra claims she'd earned the money while working as an exotic dancer.

Why did the judge decide to give Mishra back her stripper cash?

Police Seize Cash Bags

Nebraska troopers got their hands on Mishra's cash in March 2012, when a man named Rajesh Dheri was pulled over for speeding on his way to New Jersey, reports the Star Journal. Mishra was not in the car.

A trooper searched the vehicle after Dheri and his wife gave him permission (that's one way police can legally perform warrantless searches), and found two bags of bundled $100 bills that he believed was related to narcotics.

The trooper arrested the Dheris and seized the cash, which was sniffed by a drug dog that confirmed the smell of narcotics on the money, according to the Star Journal.

So Why Is This Money Being Returned?

After the seizure, Mishra filed a claim that the money was hers. But while law enforcement agreed, they asserted she had no claim to it since she had not been in the car with the Dheris, reports the New York Daily News.

Generally, money can be forfeited by a rightful owner to the government if that money was being used in illegal activities. The government claimed Mishra's money was subject to forfeiture since it was likely involved with drug crimes.

The only problem was that Mishra presented tax returns and corroborating testimony that the cash was hers, and that the Dheris were transporting the cash for a legitimate, non-drug-related business deal in New Jersey.

Stripper Is 'Innocent Owner'

The government had the burden of proving, by preponderance of the evidence (the standard used in most civil cases), that Mishra's money had a substantial connection to drug trafficking. Mishra had the same burden to prove that she owned the $1 million.

The judge, however, had doubts about the dog sniff evidence. As National Geographic suggests that nearly 90 percent of U.S. currency is tainted with cocaine, it is possible that the frequently passed bills that made up Mishra's exotic-dancing earnings were tainted without her knowledge or doing.

Because of the lack of evidence from the government -- which destroyed the money soon after seizing it and destroyed all other evidence as well -- the judge ruled in favor of Mishra, and ordered the money returned to her with interest, reports the Lincoln Journal Star.

There is still the larger question of how many lapdances and trips to the V.I.P. room went into that $1 million. But as far as the court was concerned, that wasn't an issue in this case.

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