James Slatic, a marijuana entrepreneur of San Diego, and his family, are one step closer to getting their money returned after the San Diego District Attorney's office missed the one-year statute of limitations to file charges against $100,000 it seized from the family's bank accounts 15 months ago.
On Friday, May 5, a California superior court judge ordered the San Diego District Attorney's office to return the family's money it seized from the bank accounts belonging to James Slatic, his wife, and his two step-daughters following a raid on Slatic's medical marijuana company warehouse on January 28, 2016. The San Diego DA's Office could appeal Judge Ipema's decision.
Judge Tamila Ipema, in the order, said that the San Diego District Attorney's office missed the one-year statute of limitations deadline to file a formal forfeiture petition against the family's money and it should be returned. This order does not affect the potential criminal charges the DA is exploring related the $324,000 in cash found at Slatic's warehouse, however.
During the Jan. 2016 raid on Med-West, Slatic's medical marijuana business, police seized $324,000 in cash along with medical marijuana products and equipment. The drug task force raided Slatic's warehouse after an anonymous source said the company was using illegal solvents to extract THC from marijuana, according to the search warrant. Although police did not find illegal solvents in the warehouse, police, with another search warrant signed by a judge, froze the personal bank accounts belonging to Slatic, his wife, and two stepdaughters, totaling over $100,000.
Since the raid and the property seizure, Slatic has not been charged with a crime, but the DA used civil asset forfeiture laws to seize the cash found at the warehouse and the Slatic family's money. Under asset forfeiture, law enforcement can seize property that is suspected of being proceeds of a crime. Police can keep the property for up to a year before filing charges. Unlike when people are suspected of a crime, property is considered guilty until proven innocent and it is up to the property owner to prove the property's innocence. The DA alleges the cash found at Slatic's warehouse is proceeds of an "illegal marijuana extraction" business and alleges that Slatic was laundering money through his family's bank accounts.
The DA successfully petitioned for forfeiture against the $324,000 in cash found at Slatic's warehouse before the end of the one-year statute of limitations, but the DA missed the one-year statute of limitations to include the $100,000 in a criminal case.
Judge Ipema said in the order that returning the family's money would not harm a criminal investigation or criminal charges if the DA does pursue charges against the cash.
A spokesperson from the San Diego DA's Office says the investigation remains under review for "potential criminal charges" and he's not able to discuss the facts or the status of the review.
"The funds ordered returned by a civil judge last week were previously found by a criminal judge to be tainted by criminal conduct, and we are reviewing the court transcript from the demurrer hearing in March to explore further options," says Steve Walker, the communications director at the San Diego DA's Office. "This latest ruling in civil court will not impact our ongoing review of criminal charges or the separate petition to forfeit the more than $324,000 in cash found at the hash oil laboratory."
Wesley Hottot, the lead attorney from the Institute for Justice representing the Slatic family, says he believes the DA will return the money. But, if the DA appeals, Hottot says he is ready for the opportunity to fight the DA at the Supreme Court of Appeals.
"This case was never about public safety; it was about policing for profit," says Hottot. "The Slatics' ordeal illustrates why the government should not have the power to take people's property without charging anyone with a crime."