Court Halts Efforts To Seize Suspected Smuggling Money

Court halts efforts to seize suspected smuggling money
AZ prosecutors vow to continue fight

By Jacques Billeaud
The Associated, June 3, 2009,0,4550058.story

Phoenix (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court put the brakes Wednesday on an effort by state prosecutors to seize suspected drug and immigrant smuggling money that's wired from other American states into northern Mexico.

But the court's ruling left an opening for prosecutors in Arizona, a busy immigrant and marijuana smuggling hub, to take another shot at suspected smuggling proceeds headed down south.

State prosecutors had used the seizures to stop money from being wired into Arizona and say their efforts were so successful that smugglers began to route payments from other states to Mexico, even though traffickers continued to sneak their cargo in through Arizona.

Authorities responded by trying to seize transfers going into the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office, which led the seizure effort, said it will continue its efforts to seize suspected smuggling money and that the ruling doesn't prevent it from doing so.

While the state's highest court found the seizures weren't proper under one type of jurisdiction, the attorney general's office said it can make seizures under another form of jurisdiction, as long as it shows that ill-gotten proceeds headed to Mexico were specifically connected to crimes by smugglers working in Arizona.

'If we can't connect it to actual criminal activity in Arizona, we can't proceed,' said Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Western Union, the biggest wire transfer company in Arizona, challenged the seizures of money going into Sonora, arguing Arizona prosecutors had no power to interfere with transfers into another country.

'At its heart, this matter involved Western Union protecting the interest of our consumers,' the company said in a written statement. 'The Arizona Supreme Court found that the seizure warrant here went too far.'

The company, based in Englewood, Colo., added that it will work with Arizona authorities to combat illegal activity.

For more than four years, state prosecutors have gotten more than 20 special court orders that allowed them to seize $17 million in wire transfers that were sent to Arizona and which authorities said were payments to smugglers.

Prosecutors have sought only one seizure of money flowing into Mexico and were barred from making other efforts until the courts resolved the dispute between Western Union and the attorney general's Office.

Wednesday's ruling applies to only money sent from other American states to Mexico.