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Third Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Innocent Owner Defense


January 1995

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the assertion of the "innocent owner defense" in a case in which the owner had received the property from a criminal and had learned that the property had been involved in a crime at the time of the transfer of the property, but did not know about the crime at the time the actions were committed (U.S. v. One 1973 Rolls Royce, No. 93-1417, 63 USLW 2354 (3rd Cir. 1994); BNA Criminal Practice Manual, Dec. 7, 1994, p. 600).

Nicodemo Scarfo Sr., the reputed head of a large organized crime family in Philadelphia and Atlantic City gave Oscar B. Goodman, his Las Vegas, Nevada-based criminal defense lawyer, a Rolls Royce as payment for his services. The government filed to seize the car, arguing that the car had been used to transport members of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra to and from meetings to conduct the crime family's drug trafficking activities.

The court found that Goodman had no knowledge of the drug trafficking at the time it was occurring but learned of the activities later. Thus, the court ruled that the transaction was a "post-illegal-act" transfer, and that the government cannot seize the car.