This story was produced by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom by Louisville Public Media. For more, visit KyCIR.org.
Two years ago, prosecutors offered a St. Matthews man a deal: give up $380,000 in cash through asset forfeiture, and criminal charges just filed against his family would be dropped. The case has now been resolved, with no criminal convictions for anyone involved — but police and prosecutors still kept the bulk of the cash.
Patrick Card was arrested in 2019 after the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and the St. Matthews Police seized marijuana at his house and prescribed pain pills and cash he kept at his parents’ house. Police were serving a domestic violence order on Card after his mother accused him of assaulting her a few days before, a charge that would later be dismissed.
As prosecutors began negotiating to resolve four counts of drug trafficking against Card — the source of what was potentially St. Matthews biggest cash seizure in years — they indicted his mother, father and wife, KyCIR reported in March 2020.
The assistant Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Porter offered Card a plea deal that would reduce his charges and dismiss those against his family if he forfeited the cash. If he chose to fight the seizure, they’d continue criminal cases against his wife, and then 68-year-old mother and 69-year-old father, according to a written plea offer.
He turned down the deal. For more than a year and a half, the family faced felony charges in Jefferson Circuit Court. The prosecution ended last October, after the commonwealth’s attorney agreed to dismiss the charges and return a portion of the seized money.
“This supposed ‘offer’ was nothing more than an attempt by the Commonwealth and its agents to leverage the threat of indictment and prosecution for financial gain,” said attorney Daniel K. Robertson, in a motion to have the charges dismissed against Patrick Card’s father, who was ultimately charged with four felony counts of drug trafficking.
The commonwealth’s attorney in February 2021 opposed Card’s parents’ request for their charges to be dismissed, arguing that plea deals that hinge on defendants forfeiting seized cash is not extortion, but “simply ordinary plea bargaining.”
Judge McKay Chauvin refused to dismiss the charges.
“Whether the defendants were offered the opportunity to avoid having charges presented to the Grand Jury if they forfeited money that the police allege was seized from their home in the course of the investigation is, moreover, of no consequence,” Chauvin wrote.
By October, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charges against the family and return Card’s watches, his parents’ access to their bank account and some of Card’s cash.
But Card would still have to forfeit $305,050 and three dozen guns.
In an emailed statement, assistant commonwealth’s attorney Ebert Haegele said the forfeited cash was “proven to be proceeds from drug sales,” but he did not explain how.
The rest of the money was from a legitimate source and returned, said Haegele, who is the narcotics division chief.
“Our office’s approach to asset forfeiture is in accordance with Kentucky law,” said Haegele, who is a candidate for judge in Jefferson Circuit Court division 4
As for the misconduct allegations levied against Porter, Haegele said those were “litigated in state court and proven to be untrue.”
In December 2020, Porter was sworn in as a special assistant U.S. Attorney for the western district of Kentucky.
Card said he agreed to the deal with prosecutors because fighting the case became too costly and tiring.
“I was exhausted and it was taking a toll on my ability to be mentally, physically and emotionally here for my wife and cousin that lives with us,” he said.
He’s now looking to expunge the dismissed charges from his record. A Jefferson Circuit Court judge will rule on his request next month.
Asset forfeiture now routine
Across Kentucky, law enforcement agencies reported seizing more than $86 million between the 2013 and 2021 fiscal year, according to data maintained by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.
The Louisville Metro Police Department reported seizing $35 million between 2013 and 2021, by far the most among the state’s law enforcement agencies.
A 2018 KyCIR investigation found Jefferson County prosecutors routinely used seized money as a bargaining chip in criminal cases. Attorneys for Card and his family argued the deal offered by prosecutors in this case was extreme, and the “very definition of extortion.”
Kentucky state law gives police agencies broad authority to take and keep money if they suspect it’s tied to drugs. For defendants, fighting the seizure is often fruitless and the cost can outweigh the benefit of getting the cash back.
Police in Kentucky keep 85% of any property forfeited in state court, and prosecutors get the rest, meaning prosecutors netted about $46,000 of Card’s money.
The money taken from Card in November 2019 was St. Matthews Police Department’s biggest seizure in recent years, state data show.
St. Matthews Police officials did not respond to a request for comment about Card’s case.
Police are restricted to spending the money obtained via asset forfeiture on things with a “direct law enforcement purpose,” according to state law.
There was a brief push to reform elements of the state’s asset forfeiture law in 2020. A bill passed through the House Judiciary Committee would have created penalties for law enforcement agencies that fail to report how much cash and property they seize through asset forfeiture.
“With power comes great responsibility,” said Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge, who sponsored the bill.
But a few weeks later, a week into the pandemic’s arrival in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order prohibiting mass gatherings due to the burgeoning outbreak of COVID-19.
The measure did not advance.
Reporter Jacob Ryan can be reached at [email protected] and (502) 814.6559.