11/12/2007Wyoming: Bogus DUI Report Used to Seize $3.3 Million
A Wyoming Highway Patrol officer is fired for calling in a fake DUI report in order to stop and search a pickup truck.
A Wyoming State Trooper called in a false tip to an anonymous driving under the influence (DUI) hotline so that he would have an excuse to pull over and search a vehicle known to be carrying a large amount of cash. The April 7 bogus report has sparked controversy and led to the highway patrol firing Trooper Ben Peech, 36, last week. Federal officials told the Casper Star-Tribune newspaper that the fraud will have no impact on their efforts to keep $3.3 million in seized cash during the traffic stop.
The call, and a second fake DUI report from a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent, gave Peech an excuse to be out on Interstate 80 at 3am. He was on the hunt for a silver Dodge pickup truck carrying a driver and a DEA informant who let it be known that the vehicle carried eight suitcases stuffed with cash. Peech found the truck, performed the search and found the suitcases. No charges were filed against the driver or passenger, but the money was taken. A federal appeals court ruled last year that merely driving with large sums of cash was sufficient evidence that a crime had taken place (read decision).
According to the Highway Patrol, Peech's tactics "jeopardized the integrity of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, and the REDDI (DUI hotline) program." Peech disagreed.
"There was no policy or memorandum in place prohibiting the use of the REDDI program, using subterfuge or making false reports to assist in legitimate investigations," Peech wrote in response to the department's charges. "If 'dishonesty' were grounds for dismissal, then any and all undercover agents in the state of Wyoming should be fired for the dishonest legal law enforcement tactics they are required to use."
Peech's supporters say highway patrol officials are using the false report as a pretext to fire a nine-year veteran officer who had become a thorn in their side over union issues.
"This reeks of a smokescreen to cover the administration's efforts to coerce Ben and his association to cease their attempts to pursue organizing," National Troopers Coalition Chairman Dennis Hallion said in a statement.
The Highway Patrol countered this by releasing the history of disciplinary actions against Peech which included an incident where he accidentally blasted the floorboard of his patrol car with a shotgun.