†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE COUNSELORíS CORNER
What would you do if you bought a lottery ticket one night, and won a million dollars? Hopefully, you wouldn't follow in the footsteps of Rafael Quiroz, who used the money to begin a large-scale methamphetamine ring.† If you happened to be watching the " Big Spin " way back in 1989, you may have seen Mr. Quiroz spin well and win the million dollars.† Upstanding young man that he was, he waited three years and then began† to produce and distribute† methamphetamine in 1992.† This was quite a large-scale operation, as Mr. Quiroz produced 23,000 pounds of the drug from the inception of his business in 1990 to† 1998.†
Next comes the wrinkle.† In 1997 Mr. Quiroz decided that he had enough of the life of a bachelor, and he married a woman named Lorena Chavez.† After they were married Mr. Quiroz signed paperwork indicating that if he died or became " legally unable" to receive his checks, Lorena was to receive the checks and collect the remainder of the lottery winnings.† Mr. Quiroz ' million-dollar win was to be paid out over the course of 20 years.†
In 1998 Mr. Quiroz was arrested, and in the year 2000 he was convicted of numerous charges pertaining to his methamphetamine ring.† He was sentenced to life in prison.† Mr. Quiroz was also ordered to pay $4.3 million which was his profit from the drug operation pursuant to what is called a forfeiture order.† The court decided to take his lottery proceeds as partial payment.† Needless to say, this did not sit† well with Mr. Quiroz nor with his wife Lorena.† They challenged the taking of the lottery money, claiming that as he was now "legally unable" to receive the remainder of the payments, the right to collect the remainder of the proceeds had been transferred to his wife.† The trial court ruled against Mr. Quiroz; however, Mr. Quiroz appealed the ruling.† Unfortunately for Mr. Quiroz, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the government forfeiture order took precedent over the document Mr. Quiroz had signed turning the payments over to his wife.† The Appellate Court ruled that the District Court's order "disabled Mr. Quiroz from effecting the transfer he had planned."† That's a fancy way of saying that the court order took precedence over Mr. Quiroz' attempted transfer.†
Needless to say, the prosecution is happy with this decision, indicating that it gives the forfeiture laws some teeth and allows the government to effectively punish drug offenders.†† Mr. Quiroz' attorney, of course, has the opposite view, calling this result tragic.† She is concerned that Lorena, a single mom with children, is now unable to support her children.†
While I have no sympathy for Rafael Quiroz, I do not care for the ruling.† Of course, a million dollars should be enough to set oneself up for a pretty good life and not lead one to get into the big-time drug business; however, I have always detested the forfeiture laws.† These laws permit the government in a myriad of situations to take people's money and other possessions and not have to return them.† There are rulings that allow law enforcement to keep whatever valuables, including money, that are in one's vehicle if that vehicle was used in the commission of crime.†
I would prefer to keep things separate.† If the punishment requires life in prison, then so be it.†† Mr. Quiroz took that chance when he got into the drug business.†† However, if he made other money honestly, and the lottery would fall into that category, he should be permitted to keep that money and give it to his wife, his children, or whoever he wants.† I do not approve of the Government being able to take away one's money in a situation such as this, or wherever else the forfeiture laws apply.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Unger & Grover, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.† Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.† He can be reached at charlieunger @hotmail.com