- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - State law agents are investigating possible criminal wrongdoing by a rural Nevada sheriff’s deputy who seized more than $60,000 from drivers during purported drug stops on U.S. Interstate 80, a lawyer told The Associated Press.

The Nevada Attorney General’s office began investigating Humboldt County’s highway interdiction program last summer when the latest of three federal civil lawsuits were filed against the county, said John Ohlson, a Reno lawyer who represented two of the plaintiffs.

In each case, the most recent one of which settled out of court in February, the county returned the money with interest to the three men who were stopped for speeding. Their cars were searched, but no drugs were found and no charges were filed against them.

All three said they agreed in separate incidents in 2013-14 to part with their cash - one nearly $50,000 - after the deputy told them their cars otherwise would be impounded.

New Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Allen confirmed his office has been cooperating with the investigation into the forfeiture fund where the seized money was deposited. He suspended the interdiction program when he took office in January and has no plans for it to resume.

“We provided them information when they requested it. I don’t have any information on the status of their decision or what they are going to do,” Allen told The AP on Tuesday.

Ohlson said a state investigator in the case told him he completed the field investigation earlier this month. He said he doesn’t know what the investigator recommended.

Ohlson named as defendants in his civil suits Sgt. Lee Dove, then-Sheriff Ed Kilgore, the county and Kevin Pasquale, chief deputy district attorney.

The cash seizures were part of a pattern of stopping drivers for speeding as a pretext for drug busts in violation of the Constitution, the lawsuits said.

Kilgore said in a news release in March 2013 that over the previous two years, the program netted more than 800 pounds of marijuana, 2 pounds of meth, 3 ounces of cocaine, a half ounce of heroin and about $180,000 in cash.

Dove has been on paid administrative leave since January “pending an investigation,” Allen said. “That’s all I’m at liberty to say about that.”

Dove was back in the news last week when Winnemucca police charged him with assault with a deadly weapon. He’s accused of pulling a gun in a gas station parking lot in a March 17 dispute with another motorist. He’s currently free on $22,500 bail. His lawyer, Massey Mayo of Dolan Law in Winnemucca, was out of the office Wednesday and was not immediately available to comment.

Robert Dolan, a former state public defender who founded law firm, said they haven’t yet been presented with the formal police complaint. He said a date has not yet been set for Dove’s initial court appearance.

Patricia Cafferata, communications director for Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, said earlier this week she could “neither confirm nor deny” an investigation was underway. But she acknowledged Wednesday night Humboldt County had requested the attorney general “investigate their procedures on interdiction and forfeitures.”

Cafferata said she couldn’t discuss any details. “We agreed to this request and are aware of Lee Dove and his activities,” she told AP.

Ohlson said Laxalt, the grandson of former Nevada U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt who was elected in November, could face political pressure as he decides whether to file criminal charges.

“It’s an interesting political situation because you have a conservative Republican attorney general, you have an officer who was operating under the color of drug interdiction, and drug dealers are bad guys. So there is that side,” Ohlson said.

“On the other side, there are a whole number of just wandering people who got scooped up and had their money taken. And it was being done without any warrants or arrests or anything. “

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