Aurora: Seized $190,000 linked to drug case
Brothers say cash was family savings, want it back
By Clifford Ward, Special to the Tribune
6:34 PM CST, December 9, 2010
Two brothers who say police unlawfully seized more than $190,000 during a traffic stop were suspected of drug dealing, a lawyer for the city of Aurora said during a court appearance Thursday in Kane County.
Though neither Jose nor Jesus Martinez is charged with a crime, authorities are seeking forfeiture of $190,040 found in Jesus Martinez's truck when he was stopped by Aurora police Oct. 18. A Kane County judge had ordered the money returned, but the city refused.
The Aurora residents claim the money was family savings earned from a remodeling business. But during a Thursday court appearance, an attorney unveiled reports from an Illinois State Police drug task force alleging that police had received court permission to tap the brothers' phones on the suspicion they were involved in drug trafficking.
Attorney John Murphey, who is representing Aurora, said the city had not been at liberty to discuss the case until Thursday.
"We were constrained by a live, serious investigation," said Murphey, who said he had been informed that the phase of the investigation involving the Martinez brothers, who were not in court, was over.
Attorney Patrick Kinnally, who is representing the brothers, said the allegations did not change his assertion that the money had been unlawfully seized.
"Not a bit," he said. "Let's just see how the evidence plays out."
A hearing was set for Jan. 5 by Judge Thomas Mueller.
The new documents allege North Central Narcotics Task Force officers were listening in on a call between the Martinez brothers in which they discussed Jesus' planned meeting with a man named Charlie in a parking lot in Aurora.
According to the report, Jose Martinez told his brother, "the package is ready," though there was not an explicit mention of drugs. The report said police observed Jesus Martinez arrive in the parking lot and talk with another man for a minute before both departed in separate vehicles. No exchange was reported, and police apparently did not stop the second driver.
Jesus Martinez was stopped four minutes later by an Aurora officer working with the task force. Martinez consented to have his vehicle searched. No drugs were found, but police did find the sack of cash.
Aurora police were only involved in an intermediary fashion, Murphey said. After questioning Martinez and giving him a receipt for the money, Aurora police transferred the money that night to the task force, which reported handing it over the next day to the Department of Homeland Security.
The brothers have denied being involved in drugs. Neither has a criminal record. Another brother and a cousin were convicted of drug charges following a 2002 arrest, but the convictions were overturned on appeal, and the charges were dropped.
In November, Judge Michael Colwell signed a temporary injunction against Aurora, ordering the city to return the money. Colwell has since retired, and Mueller has taken the case.
A call to the North Central Narcotics Task Force was not returned.