Prichard uncertain where
money went Seized cash missing in Prichard
By EDDIE CURRAN
The city of Prichard faced embarrassment anew
Friday as city officials had to admit in court
that they can't find $16,000 seized by police
from a suspected drug dealer's home.
"We have not been able to locate the
funds," city attorney Greg Harris
acknowledged to Mobile Circuit Judge Herman
At the hastily called hearing, lawyers for
Prichard, the Mobile County district attorney's
office and accused drug dealer Frankie Wilson
sought to solve the mystery of the missing cash.
Prodded by Judge Thomas, the story unfolded
through bank records and testimony by Prichard
officials. Its increasingly central figure was a
neatly groomed, bespectacled man seated in the
rear of the courtroom.
But Prichard Police Lt. James Stallworth, one
of the top ranking officers in the department,
wasn't providing any answers. His lawyer, Mobile
criminal attorney Buzz Jordan, told Stallworth
not to comment.
Jordan said Friday afternoon that his client
remains a respected officer of the Prichard
Police Department, and would be able to clear up
the mess once he's provided ac cess to
city records, and records seized in August by the
FBI during a raid on the Prichard Police
A group of FBI agents involved in the
investigation watched Friday morning's hearing,
but didn't participate. Mobile District Attorney
John M. Tyson Jr., who also attended, said the
matter of the missing cash was a part of that
federal investigation, and an investigation by
his office. He declined to comment when asked if
those investigations might involve assets seized
by Prichard police in other drug cases.
Friday morning's hearing involved a civil case,
not a criminal charge. Thomas set the hearing to
consider a demand by Wilson's lawyer, Mobile
attorney Dom Soto, that Prichard be found in
contempt of court and be ordered to reimburse
Wilson for the $16,000 seized from his home on
May 22, 1999.
Thomas, with support from Tyson's office,
ruled for Soto's client.
"I have no choice but to order the City
of Prichard, immediately, to return those funds,"
Thomas said at the conclusion of Friday's hearing.
Harris, the Prichard attorney, reminded the
court that the city is in bankruptcy. Soto's
client would have to take his judgment to
bankruptcy court, and get in line with other
creditors, Harris said.
Late Friday, Prichard deposited $16,000 with
the court, and asked Thomas not to hold the city
in contempt. The order also asked Thomas not to
disperse the money until he receives the blessing
of the bankruptcy court, Tyson said.
The money might never have been found to be
missing had federal prosecutors not dropped
cocaine and crack cocaine distribution charges
In July, prosecutors acknowledged that
Prichard police made critical errors in the
search of Wilson's home. Court records show the
case against Wilson also was damaged because the
lead investigator was former Prichard police Sgt.
John Stuckey, who resigned in March amid "allegations
of misconduct," city officials said then.
Stuckey was to testify against Wilson, but
Stuckey's credibility has been tarnished by his
resignation and the federal investigation.
During the May 22, 1999, search, officers also
took two kilos of cocaine from Wilson's home,
equipment used to convert powder cocaine to crack,
and various electronic equipment, including a
computer and two televisions. Prosecutors said
they regretted dropping the case against Wilson,
but had no alternative.
In July 1999, the district attorney's office,
acting on behalf of Prichard police, filed what's
called a forfeiture action against Wilson. These
actions are commonly brought by the district
attorney's office as a means of keeping cash,
cars or equipment seized in drug raids.
But when federal prosecutors dropped their
charges against Wilson, the district attorney's
office dropped its forfeiture action, since
Prichard no longer had any legal ground to keep
Wilson's money. Soon after, Soto asked Thomas -
who had been assigned the case a year earlier -
to order Prichard to return the money to his
On Aug. 25, Thomas signed such an order. But
Prichard officials, including police Chief Sammie
Brown, officer Stallworth and city attorney
Jackie Jackson, sought to circumvent Thomas's
ruling, Thomas, Soto and others said Friday.
For example, after Thomas signed the order,
Soto contacted Brown to demand the money. The
police chief threatened to put Soto in jail, Soto
said in court, and in a brief filed Thursday
"Chief Brown asserted that whoever
received the funds would also be given a large
amount of cocaine purportedly seized at the
residence and would be arrested," Soto wrote
in brief to court.
At Friday's hearing, Thomas provided an
account of the calls and information he had
received from Prichard officials in the past week.
Thomas was told that Jackson, one of Prichard's
lawyers, had told Prichard Municipal Judge Mike
Harbin that he had the legal authority to condemn
the $16,000 and by so doing, allow it to remain
Thomas said that when he learned of this, he
called Jackson and asked him to cite the law that
gave a municipal court such authority. Jackson
acknowledged to Thomas that there was no such law.
Attempts to reach Jackson on Friday for
comment were unsuccessful.
Thomas also said that he was told by Prichard
officials that the Mobile district attorney's
office planned to appeal Thomas's Aug. 25 order.
Thomas said he contacted the district attorney's
office, and was told they had no such plans.
Brown, who appeared embarrassed by the judge's
telling of events, did not deny making that
threat but explained to the court that he was
acting on information provided to him by
Stallworth, and which he believed at the time to
Brown reminded the court that the money was
seized, and apparently lost, well before he left
the Mobile Police Department to lead Prichard's
force in January. He reiterated that there is no
record of the money having been received by his
At this point, the focus of the hearing moved
from efforts by Prichard to counteract Thomas's
order, to testimony about what happened to the
Jordan, Stallworth's attorney, said that his
client had told him that he deposited the $16,000
with Regions Bank last October, in keeping with
Prichard's policy. The bank provided Stallworth
with a cashier's check, which Stallworth
delivered to Dana Allen-Foster, a clerk at
Prichard city hall.
Thomas then asked Allen-Foster - now Prichard's
acting finance director - if she had any record
of receiving a $16,000 cashier's check. Allen-Foster
said she had diligently searched and found no
Jordan then told Thomas that, according to
Stallworth, the $16,000 in cash was deposited
along with other seized funds, totaling $28,724.
Thomas asked Allen-Foster if she was aware of a
deposit in that amount. Allen-Foster provided
Thomas with copies of a cashier's check in that
amount. She explained that, as required,
Stallworth had also provided forfeiture orders,
signed by Harbin. Each order listed a person's
name, and the amount seized.
One such order showed an amount in excess of $14,000,
but was taken from a defendant other than Harris.
No other order - and there were more than 100 of
them - showed an amount greater than $1,000. Most
were for amounts less than $50, court records
Soto, seeing the hearing turn into an attempt
to solve the mystery of the missing money,
reminded Thomas that his client didn't care what
happened to the money.
"We don't particularly care what pot it
comes from. The city can comply today by writing
a check," Soto said.
Harris, the Prichard attorney, argued that the
city had no record of receiving the money. Soto
noted that when the district attorney's office
filed the forfeiture action in July 1999, it
listed the amount of money seized by Prichard and
specifically identified the items of electric
equipment, which included a computer and two
Harris responded that the forfeiture claim was
brought by the district attorney's office, and
not the city of Prichard. But that gambit didn't
fly. Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson
reminded Thomas that her office only brought the
forfeiture action after being asked to do so by
the Prichard police.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas ordered Prichard to
pay the money.