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Poker Players Cope With 'Highway Robbery' By Cop

Davis, Newmer­zhycky Talk Being Victims Of Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws


Having your poker bankroll stolen is really a poker player’s worst nightmare. It especially hurts when it is the cops who wipe away all your hard work.

Poker players William “Bart” Davis (right) and John Newmer­zhycky (left) were driving through Iowa with out-of-state plates, which they said was the reason why they were pulled over by law enforcement that Davis and Newmer­zhycky said were “100 percent on the money hunt.”

A total of $100,000 was seized from them, as law enforcement in both Iowa and California tried to hit them with drug-related charges after finding a small amount of marijuana in their rental car and marijuana in their California homes. Both are medical marijuana cardholders in the Golden State.

Davis and Newmer­zhycky said their bank accounts were frozen thanks to the felony charges in California. Fortunately for the poker players, those charges were dropped.

While they were able to recover some of the money that was seized in Iowa, they still had to pay a hefty sum in attorney’s fees. A complaint against Iowa state troopers, as well as a for-profit group that trains Drug Interdiction officers, filed in late September seeks compensation for the whole ordeal. Their lawyer said their Constitutional rights were violated.

Their situation makes one recall that back in the day Texas rounders and other poker players had to be on the lookout for robbers and highwaymen trying to steal bankrolls. These days, poker players have to be watching for aggressive cops using forfeiture as a ruse to confiscate bankrolls with impunity. It’s really never easy being a professional poker player.

Card Player had the chance to speak with Davis and Newmer­zhycky about their ordeal in 2013 and how they are trying to find a resolution via the courts.

Brian Pempus: How has this impacted you guys?

William “Bart” Davis: It has affected both of our lives pretty dramatically.

John Newmer­zhycky: They took everything that I owned at that point in my life. My game was just starting to get on point and we decided to take that road trip. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues. My mom was battling cancer and they were trying to sell their house. Bart had expressed interest in buying my parents’ house…those Iowa cops pretty much put an end to [my poker playing] too and ruined my life. I had people willing to back me at the time, but after this happened that was all off the table. Basically, I had to move out of my house and be homeless for awhile because I couldn’t pay my mortgage. I had to rent out my home. The stress finally caused me to have a stroke. Everything that happened in [California], I lost a lot of friends over it.

WD: They pressed felony charges on us in Humboldt [California] as a result of the stop in Iowa. That was stressful, especially when they seized your cash and it’s hard to muster a legal defense. They froze both of our bank accounts and drained them, including things like my health savings account. It was pretty harsh what happened here in Humboldt as a result of that stop.

JN: Just for the record, they said they found a small amount of marijuana on me [in the car], but it was basically a flake in a computer bag that I didn’t even know was there.

WD: By their own documentation, that was 0.001 grams that they found on us in Iowa. That was after illegally detaining us and searching the car for longer than three hours before they even came across this microscopic amount of marijuana. They tried to charge us with possession because they were going after our money.

JN: It was blatant highway robbery. The cop’s interview with me took about an hour. He harassed me the entire time. All we talked about was poker. I gave him more information than was necessary. He just kept trying to trip me up. He was asking me if we stayed in the same hotel room, how much money we had won and so on. I entertained his questions for quite some time and he let me go. But then he got out of the car and got in my face again, asking if he could search the car. I did not consent to anything. He basically strong-armed me and put me back in his vehicle and brought a dog in. They made the dog hit on the car. There is no way the dog hit on the flake that was in my computer bag [in a grinder]. Yeah, it basically ruined my life. I am just getting back on my feet a little bit.

WD: They were trying to bootstrap criminal charges on us so that they could keep the money. That’s pretty common. Basically, if you don’t give us the cash you are going to have criminal charges. You see this in many cases. If you sign away the cash they won’t press charges.

JN: For the record, what they seized from me was $15,000—that was my poker bankroll. That’s nothing. Bart had $85,000. He’s on a higher level than I am. That’s why we were hanging out. I was trying to learn how to play poker better.

WD: I did not expect criminal charges to be pressed. I had no record. I am in my 50s. Also, I can legitimately back up that kind of cash with my W-2 forms for the last five years now. I am a professional poker player by IRS standards. There was some issue with being able to look up my career tournament earnings online because my name is pretty common, but I think they are starting to get that ironed out. It will show that I have close to $300,000 in tournament earnings in the last few years. I have had like $50,000-$60,000 this year. Losing that money hugely affected my ability to keep playing. That was my bankroll.

BP: It seems like the cops, in California especially, thought you were big-time drug dealers.

WD: I honestly think that they were thinking, ’Where’s the money?’ and ‘How can we seize it?’ Nothing more. If you watch the entire traffic stop video you get the full picture…all the marijuana stuff that the cops were reporting was 100 percent fabricated, including the reason they gave to pull us over. These guys were trying to frame us. It was a laundry list of Constitutional violations. These officers make a career out of pulling over people with out-of-state plates.

JN: I am not sure what else we had to do to convince these [cops] they we are poker players. If you Google our names that’s what comes up.

BP: And Iowa has casinos with poker tournaments. They aren’t unaware of poker.

WD: I think it only made them more interested. They think that poker players carry a lot of cash. You make the conclusions after watching the video.

BP: I’ve seen other outlets use the term “illegal seizure,” and that may be the correct legal term, but in your opinion it was theft?

JN: Yes.

WD: Highway robbery. That’s what I would call it. It’s kind of obvious.

JN: I knew I used my blinker and I was trying to ask the cop what the stop was all about. We are thankful to have a lawyer like Glen [Downey].

BP: How much are you seeking to get from this lawsuit?

JN: Well, you can’t put a dollar amount on my health. I had a stroke over this. The situation that they put me in was the darkest place in my life. I almost didn’t survive it.

WD: We are seeking punitive damages as well, in addition to direct damages.

BP: Can you talk about how the cop did a 180 and suddenly said that he had a K-9 unit nearby and wanted to search the vehicle?

JN: I couldn’t even believe it. I didn’t trust the cop from the get-go. I was relieved that he said we could go, but that lasted like two seconds because he was right up my ass immediately, asking me questions like he was reading it from a script.

If you ask me, he was the one who was nervous, not me.

WD: I think he was reading from a script and he was trained to do that. I think that’s a psychological assault intended to make you nervous and break you down a bit.

JN: Everything that the cop did during that traffic stop was illegal. I didn’t even have to answer half the questions or talk to him about my private business or poker. But I did. I was being honest with the guy, and he tried to twist everything I said back to money. I could see the [cop] drooling.

BP: After this horrible situation, do you get anxious when you see a cop nowadays?

JN: I fear the cops after what happened.

WD: I feel like the cops are going to have to change their ways. I hope we are vindicated and that the laws in this country end up protecting us. I am sure glad my rights weren’t violated even more like some of these kids [across America] who are getting blown away for no reason.

BP: What kind of advice would you give to other poker players to help them avoid being caught up in situations like you one you two have fell victim to?

WD: I would say do no consent to a search. Do not tell them if you have large amounts of cash, but also be very careful about having lots of cash if traveling out of state.

JN: Don’t go through Iowa.

WD: Poker players already kind of know these things. But why do we have to know these things?



7 years ago

ACLU: "Every year, federal and state law enforcement agents seize millions of dollars from civilians during traffic stops, simply by asserting that they believe the money is connected to some illegal activity and without ever pursuing criminal charges. Under federal law and the laws of most states, they are entitled to keep most (and sometimes all) of the money and property they seize."

"Without ever pursuing criminal charges" means the currency itself looked guilty. USA vs $100,000 etc.

You don't have to look guilty, you may be as innoncent as the day you were born, but under civil asset forfeiture laws, the currency looks as guilty as hell. It looks like "
drug money" ! If they had a police line up, currency would be put between a personal check and a wire transfer, and the "eye witness" would ID the currency as the obvious proceeds from drug activity. Decent, church-going folks only have to look at a hundred dollar bill when offered as payment to know that it's not "honest money" but the by-product of organized crime!

And you thought the war on drugs wouldn't affect you!