California Poker Pros Fight Iowa For Seized $100,020 Bankroll
Two California poker players are fighting against the state of Iowa for the return of over $100,000 seized by police in what the men believe was an illegal traffic stop. The pair claims that the fallout from the incident has done irreparable damage to their health, finances and reputation.
William “Bart” Davis and John Newmerzhycky were pulled over while traveling from a World Series of Poker event at Harrah’s Casino in Joliet, Illinois last year. The stop was made by trooper Justin Simmons, member of Iowa’s interdiction team, a special force within the police which pursues drug traffickers on the state’s highways.
Simmons claimed that the men were acting in a nervous manner and decided to bring in a drug dog to search their vehicle. Although the two men had told the officer that they were carrying no drugs or currency, the dog eventually sniffed out the $85,020 which Davis kept in a briefcase, and $15,000 which Newmerzhycky had hidden inside a computer bag. In addition to the cash, police found a grinder for processing small quantities of marijuana.
With the discovery of the grinder, officials were able to cite Newmerzhycky for possession of drug paraphernalia and seize the currency they found inside the car. Authorities then took things one step further by tipping off California police to the incident, who proceeded to raid the homes of both men. Even though the two held cards for medical marijuana, investigators apparently found enough of the drug to bring felony charges against the pair.
Car stopped under false pretenses
But Davis and Newmerzhycky, both professional poker players, claimed that the cash was simply their poker bankroll, and that their car was targeted illegally. They say that due to their out-of-state plates, the interdiction team officer unlawfully profiled the pair and lied about his reason for pulling them over.
In his statement, the official claimed that the men had failed to use a turn signal when passing an SUV. But video from Simmons’ own dash camera clearly shows that the driver did, in fact, use his signal. “If you have a bad stop, then anything that flows from that is gone,” said Ben Okin, a California attorney who represented Newmerzhycky.
After hiring an Illinois attorney, the two have made progress in their fight. The state eventually agreed to a settlement, returning $90,000, but the litigation left the men with around $30,000 in legal bills.
Now they are trying to recover additional money from the state, claiming that by having their bankroll seized, they were unable to continue playing poker tournaments during the month of September 2013.
Newmerzhycky is also fighting for additional compensation for the affect the incident has had on his life. After learning about the California felony charges, he suffered a heart attack, rendering him unable to restart a glassblowing business which he had previously owned. “They destroyed my life, destroyed my reputation, destroyed my health,” he said.