Ever wondered what to do with all of those unlawfully obtained proceeds, without the hassle of laundering them through a car wash and keeping the remainder in a storage unit?
Wayne Hill robbed a bank in Naperville, Illinois. He made off with about $134,000 in wrapped bills, which he stuffed into a bag. One of the tellers, however, placed a dye-pack in the bag, and it exploded. Hill fled to Milwaukee, where he tried to launder the money by going to a casino and inserting the dye-stained bills into a slot machine, without actually playing the slots. The reason is understandable: when the bills are inserted, the player banks that money for which to play the slot. When money remains after playing, the player can cash out by pressing a button on the machine. Rather than getting his own money back, he instead gets a paper voucher, which he takes to a cashier in the casino. So in Milwaukee, Hill successfully exchanged his tainted bills for about $6,650 in fresh cash.
But this left Hill with much of the robbery loot left to launder. So Hill took his loot to the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, into which he strolled carrying thousands of dye-stained dollars in a backpack and a Santa Claus hat (yep, a Santa hat, because no one would notice that – though, to be fair, it was late November). He began the ritual of feeding the cash into a slot machine without playing the game, and sure enough, a slot attendant saw the activity and found it odd. The attendant also noticed that the money had red dye on it. He told casino security about Hill’s behavior, and a security officer responded. At this point, one of Hill’s bills had become stuck in the machine and he needed assistance getting it removed. The security officer questioned Hill, but he was nervous and short with her. By the time she contacted her shift manager, Hill had gone to the cashier.
Now enter Hammond Police Lieutenant Patrick McKechnie, who was moonlighting at the casino. Having heard what Hill was doing, McKechnie found Hill in the cashier line and questioned him. Hill eventually responded that he had found the money near a lake, while changing a tire (well done, Hill). Based on his experience, and having seen the dye-stained bills, McKechnie was suspicious. So he led Hill to a nearby interview room, where his bag was searched, and the remaining money was revealed.
The Justice Department obtained an indictment against Hill on charges of money laundering, bank robbery, and transporting stolen money in interstate commerce. He was convicted and sentenced to 360 months in prison. But Hill argued that his arrest and McKechnie’s search violated the Fourth Amendment because they lacked sufficient justification.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had little difficulty with these claims. The court said the initial encounter with McKechnie was not an arrest but an investigatory stop, which only needed to be justified by reasonable suspicion. Based on the information conveyed to McKechnie, his observation of the money, the unlikely story Hill told about finding the money, and reliance on his experience as a police officer, McKechnie clearly had specific, articulable facts to conclude that Hill had committed or was committing a crime. Next, the court said that when McKechnie took Hill to the interview room, this was effectively an arrest that had to be supported by probable cause. But McKechnie had probable cause by this point, based on the same set of facts. Finally, the search of the bag was permissible as a search incident to a lawful arrest.
As the Seventh Circuit reminds us, sooner or later, the house always wins. The opinion in United States v. Hill is here.