Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 | 5:15 p.m.
For a second time, a federal appeals court has ruled that two Las Vegas professional gamblers can pursue their suit against a federal narcotics officer for seizing $97,000 in cash suspected of being used in drug trafficking.
A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday held that gamblers Gina Fiore and Keith Gibson could sue in a Nevada court against DEA agent Antony Walden who confiscated the cash in an airport in Atlanta in 2006.
The panel in 2011, in a 2-1 decision, sent the suit back to district court in Las Vegas to allow the gamblers to pursue their claim. Warden petitioned for a rehearing but the panel rejected his motion on a 2-1 vote.
Walden maintained the Nevada court had no jurisdiction over him. He said he did not own property in Nevada and had never even been in this state.
He then asked that the full circuit court hear the case but was rejected. Four of the judges sided with Walden for a full court rehearing. The three-judge panel then issued an amended opinion allowing the suit to continue.
Fiore and Gibson were returning from a gambling trip in Puerto Rico when Walden and other federal officers stopped them at the airport in Georgia questioning them about drugs and weapons. The couple explained that $30,000 was their initial gambling money and the rest was from their winnings.
But a drug-detecting dog clawed the bag of Gibson, and agents seized the luggage and the money on grounds it may have been used in narcotics dealings. They did not even allow the couple money for a taxi in Las Vegas.
The couple, once back in Las Vegas, sent the federal agent tax returns verifying they were professional gamblers, hotel records and receipts from their trips, which showed the legitimacy of their seized money.
The money was not immediately returned. The suit by Fiore and Gibson says Walden submitted a false affidavit seeking to confiscate the money. The U.S. Attorney's Office felt the affidavit was misleading and the $97,000 was returned more than six months after it was seized, said the circuit court.
Fiore and Gibson then sued and the case has been battled in the courts for five years.
In ruling Nevada courts had jurisdiction, the federal panel said the federal agent intentionally targeted the Nevada couple and the two did not have to go to Georgia to seek redress.