Man loses appeal after court rules seized cash was drug money
A man caught trying to sneak more than $67,000 out of Bermuda has lost a Supreme Court legal battle to get the cash back.
Puisne Judge Sade Subair Williams ruled that, on the balance of probabilities, the cash was the proceeds of crime – specifically drug dealing – and dismissed the appeal.
She said: “Looking at this picture as a whole, I am satisfied that the evidence establishes at a very high balance of probabilities that the cash seized from the appellant was criminal proceeds related to drug trafficking.
“That is to say that although any one of these facts might not singularly point to a proven case, together the evidence strikes with force of a strong and sturdy fist.”
The court heard Nicai Lambert was arrested in 2016 after US Customs and Border Control officials at the airport found he had bundles of cash hidden in the padding of his suitcase and on his person.
Mr Lambert was not convicted of an offence in connection with the money.
But senior magistrate Juan Wolffe made a forfeiture order for the seized $67,793 on the basis it was the proceeds of criminal activity.
Mr Lambert launched an appeal against the 2017 forfeiture order, which was heard in the Supreme Court in October.
Charles Richardson, counsel for Mr Lambert, said then that Mr Wolffe had drawn the wrong conclusions from his client’s police interview and was mistaken when he ruled the cash the result of criminal activity.
But Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams said in her written judgment delivered this week that she found “no flaws” in the senior magistrates’ reasoning.
Mrs Justice Subair Williams said: “I am left in no doubt that the monies seized from the appellant were directly or indirectly the proceeds of criminal conduct, and that the criminal conduct concerned was drug trafficking.”
Mr Lambert went to the airport for a flight to the Dominican Republic through New York on June 16, 2016.
He confirmed on his US declaration form he had less than $10,000 in his possession and told officials he had $5,500 in cash on him when questioned.
But a search revealed he had $40,000 in two packages on his person, $20,000 hidden in the foam padding of a suitcase, $6,193 in a bank pouch in his suitcase and $1,600 in his pockets.
Mr Lambert told police he earned $400 a day as a taxi driver and the money was savings.
He added he preferred to keep his money in cash because of a “distrust” of banks and wanted to avoid paying tax on the cash in his possession.
Mr Lambert told police he often travelled to the US and to the Dominican Republic to visit his wife and children.
Convictions in criminal courts require guilt to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but civil court decisions – such as forfeiture orders – are based on a “balance of probabilities”.
Mrs Justice Subair Williams said Mr Wolffe had made his determination that the funds were the result of criminal activity in part through analysis of Mr Lambert’s income and financial liabilities.
She said Mr Lambert’s bank account activity was “highly suspicious” and seemed to contradict his claim that he did not trust banks.
Mrs Justice Subair Williams said: “He was clearly an active customer of the banking system.
“He had a checking account and a separate US dollar account at Clarien Bank, a US dollar account and a Bermuda dollar savings account at HSBC Bank and a BNTB account from which his loan payments were made.”
She estimated from the records that Mr Lambert had legitimately earned around $150,000 in the 18 months up to June 2016 – which left more than $72,000 of revenue unaccounted for.
Mrs Justice Subair Williams said a combination of the illegitimately sourced funds, large withdrawals of US currency, monthly travel to the US with funds less than was withdrawn from Bermuda banks, concealed cash and his dishonesty to Customs officials painted a picture of illegal activity.
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