By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A Mankato man has filed a lawsuit asking Blue Earth County to return a large amount of cash that was confiscated during a September drug raid.
It’s been more than two months since the house in the 300 block of North Sixth Street was searched in early September by law enforcement officers working with the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force. As of last week no charges had been filed against any of the people named in affidavits used to justify the search.
Steven James Eshleman is not one of the people named in the court documents, but he is claiming the $9,270 in cash found stuffed in a jar belonged to him. His lawsuit also says the cash can’t be linked to anything that will result in criminal charges and the money was obtained through an illegal search.
Eshleman received notice from the county Sept. 27 saying the process was starting that forces him to forfeit the cash. His civil suit is required in order to have the cash returned.
Eshleman’s civil suit can’t move forward until after the criminal cases, if charges are filed, are resolved. His attorney, Thomas Hagen, declined to comment until then.
An agent with the task force searched two trash cans at the residence after receiving a tip that residents there had purchased 25 pounds of high-grade marijuana in Colorado and brought it back to Mankato. When the trash was searched, the agent reported finding what appeared to be records for marijuana sales and a portion of a vacuum-sealed bag that allegedly had marijuana residue.
Four smaller plastic sandwich bags and the corners of other bags also were found in the trash, the affidavit said. Three of the smaller bags appeared to have been washed before they were thrown out and the fourth had a corner torn off. The washing and the missing corner are common for bags that have been used to package other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, the agent said in the affidavit.
Based on that information and surveillance at the rental house, Nicollet County District Court Judge Todd Westphal authorized a search warrant. It’s not uncommon for judges to sign search warrants from neighboring counties when judges there aren’t available.
In addition to the $9,270 Eshleman claims belongs to him, the officers searching the house found another $1,479 in cash. Two of the people named in the search warrants had cash in their possession. One man had $1,019 and the other had $120, according to the search warrant. Another $340 was found at an undisclosed location in the house.
Agents reported finding multiple jars containing what they suspect was marijuana. They also found what they suspected was hash oil, LSD dosages, a digital scale, equipment for growing marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The agents also reported finding several vacuum-sealed bags that had been opened and emptied, all containing marijuana residue.
A drug dog was used to sniff search two vehicles parked at the residence. Search warrants were approved for the vehicles because the dog gave a positive signal for drugs.
Two money-gram receipts were found in one vehicle and a plastic storage container with marijuana residue was found in the other vehicle, those search warrants said.