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Know When to Fold? Atlanta False Affidavit Warrants Nevada Venue

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

What happens en route to Vegas, can establish jurisdiction in Vegas, according to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week.

Federal law enforcement officers seized $97,000 from professional gamblers Gina Fiore and Keith Gipson while they changed planes in the Atlanta airport on their way home to Las Vegas. The pair explained that the funds were legal gambling proceeds, not evidence of drug transactions. Their story turned out to be true.

The truth, however, was not enough to set their thousands of dollars free. After an initial stop and questioning at the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents again questioned the pair in the Atlanta airport, before bringing a drug-detecting dog to their boarding area. The dog pawed Gipson's bag once, which the agents claimed sufficiently signaled contraband to indicate that the money was involved in drug transactions.The agents seized the $97,000.

DEA Agent Anthony Walden told Fiore and Gipson that if they later produced receipts showing the legitimacy of the funds, their money would be returned. The pair provided the documentation, but the funds were not returned. Fiore and Gipson claimed that, despite clean records, Walden and another DEA agent provided a false probable cause affidavit to initiate forfeiture proceedings.

A U.S. Attorney determined that Walden had omitted information, resulting in a false affidavit, and offered to return Fiore and Gipson's funds in exchange for a release, presumably of legal claims. The gamblers rolled the dice and refused, instead bringing a Bivens action in Nevada against Walden and three other unnamed DEA agents or attorneys as individuals, alleging Fourth Amendment violations.

A district court dismissed the action, finding that there was not personal jurisdiction over Walden in Nevada. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed due to the false affidavit/forfeiture aspect of the case, noting that Walden's actions were "performed with the purpose of having ... consequences felt by someone in Las Vegas."

When Walden sought out Fiore and Gipson at their boarding gate at the Atlanta airport, he knew that their presence in Georgia was fleeting, and that they were going to Nevada. Without probable cause, he seized approximately $97,000, which also was destined for Nevada.

The court ruled that even if Walden did not know at the time he seized the funds that Fiore and Gipson had ongoing, substantial connections to Nevada, he necessarily learned of these connections at some point before providing the alleged false affidavit and referring the case for forfeiture proceedings.

Do you agree with the Ninth Circuit's finding that the false affidavit/forfeiture proceedings aspect of the case established jurisdiction over Walden? Does extending jurisdiction in this manner to airport incidents create an undue burden on law enforcement officers, or is it necessary to protect travelers?

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