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$34,000 in confiscated cash returned to smoke-shop owner

A Shinnecock Indian smoke-shop owner who in 2012 unsuccessfully sued two Suffolk cops after they confiscated more than $34,000 in cash during a traffic stop that resulted in no charges has received the money back from the FBI.

An FBI spokeswoman last week confirmed the agency returned the money but declined to provide an explanation or answer any questions about the seizure. The U.S. Attorney’s office defended one of the Suffolk cops, who at the time was a member of a federal law-enforcement task force. That officer, Robert Trotta, is now a Suffolk Legislator from Fort Salonga.

Trotta Monday said he was “shocked” the money was returned and blamed “mismanagement” in Suffolk government and the former police administration. “I’m surprised they didn’t give them back their untaxed cigarettes,” he said.

The FBI spokeswoman, Amy J. Thoreson, in response to Newsday questions, said, “We did return the money as part of our forfeiture procedures and policies. We’re unable to comment beyond that.”

She declined to discuss the whereabouts of thousands of cartons of cigarettes smokeshop owner Jonathan K. Smith charged were illegally confiscated along with the cash during a 2012 stop on the Long Island Expressway. Trotta said the seizure was “100 percent by the book,” adding he believed police later “took and destroyed” the confiscated cigarettes.

Smith, a tribal medicine man who owns the Shinnecock Smoke Shop, in July of 2012 was transporting a “legitimate and documented” truckload of cigarettes in July 2012 when he was stopped by Suffolk police officer Vincent Fredrico, according to a federal lawsuit filed in 2012. Trotta soon joined him.

Smith’s suit alleged police conducted a warrantless search of a suitcase containing Smith’s shipping documents, invoices, tobacco licenses and $34,623 in cash, which was seized.

Smith at the time sought a preliminary injunction for the return of the cash and cigarettes seized in the stop, but a federal judge denied the request, saying he did not show “irreparable harm.” The case was ultimately dropped.

A Suffolk Police spokeswoman didn’t provide a comment.

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