Drug Task Force to benefit from asset forfeiture case

Published 12:16 am Saturday, July 29, 2017

Last week, the State of Alabama Court of Civil Appeals upheld the condemnation of a home on Snead Street and more than $18,000. The house is expected to be sold and the funds used to provide operating expenses for the 22nd Judicial Drug Task Force.

In October, the county learned that the Drug Task Force would not receive funding from an ADECA grant as it had in the past.

During an October meeting of the DTF board, District Attorney Walt Merrell suggested that the group use asset forfeiture money that was fully adjudicated for things such as rent.

Merrell said he would not disclose how much money was in that fund.

Additionally, Merrell said at the time, there were also two asset forfeitures with decent sums of money and property that should come to the DTF, one of which was finalized last week.

The civil action, filed by Merrell, sought to seize and forfeit a home located at 1203 Snead St. in Andalusia, along with $18,238. In his complaint, Merrell alleged that the house and lot were purchased with the proceeds of drug sales, that the house was used to facilitate drug crimes, and that the money was all the ill-gotten gains of drug sales.

On Sept. 10, 2015, the owner of the house, Albert Dewayne Bonam, was arrested for trafficking in cocaine, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana II. The charges came after a lengthy investigation into suspected drug activity at his residence. Agents with the 22nd Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force executed a search warrant on the residence and discovered a large amount of cocaine, digital scales, a handgun, $18,238 in U. S. currency bundled in $1,000 increments, marijuana and a fully operational surveillance system. The investigation leading up to the search indicated that drugs were being sold from the residence regularly and, as a consequence, due to the large amount of drugs recovered, the State of Alabama filed to seize the residence and currency.

Bonam passed away prior to the case being concluded.

In a press release Friday, Merrell talked of how uncommon that is, noting that, “It is infrequent that a party to litigation passes away, but it does not stop the litigation in a civil case. So, we chose to proceed with the forfeiture, because the home and the money were still illegally gotten gains. The fact that Mr. Bonam regrettably passed away did not change those circumstances. We did, obviously cease the criminal proceedings, but they are separate and apart from the civil case.”

During the forfeiture trial, the evidence showed that drugs were being sold out of the residence and that the money found during the search was from drug sales. Though Mr. Bonam’s mother testified in opposition to the forfeiture, suggesting that the amount of money found at the residence was from an insurance settlement, Circuit Court Judge Ben Bowden ruled that the state proved its case, and ordered the property and the currency to be forfeited.

Bonam’s family appealed to the State of Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. After a review of the appeal by the Court of Civil Appeals, the judgment of the Circuit Court was affirmed. As such, the auction of the property will occur on Aug. 21, 2017. The proceeds of the sale and the currency seized will be awarded to the 22nd Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force for operating expenses.