The lives of pro poker players who travel throughout the U.S. can be quite stressful, with possibilities looming that an entire bankroll can vanish without scoring a major cash. Those risks are difficult enough without having to worry about that bankroll disappearing at the hands of police officers who perhaps extend their authority beyond what is legally permissible under the Constitution.
Two California pros learned that all too well while driving through Iowa after competing at an event in Illinois in 2013. William “Bart” Davis and John Newmerzhycky, both from Mckinleyville, CA, had their bankroll of about $100,000 seized last year after a questionable traffic stop.
The pair were cruising through Iowa on I-80 in a red Nissan Ultima with Nevada license plates –a rental– when two Iowa State troopers in a single vehicle assigned to a team devoted to wiping out crime on the interstate pulled them over –apparently for failing to signal a lane change. However, a video from a dashboard camera on the troopers’ cruiser that captured the traffic stop shows that Newmerzhycky did indeed signal correctly –making the stop unlawful, according to an attorney hired by the pro players.
If you sit down and you watch the video, you can see very clearly that they signaled,” said Benjamin Okin, a California lawyer. “If you have a bad stop, then anything that flows from that is gone.”
Seized bankroll returned
The cops also claim that a report from Illinois police alerted them to be on the lookout for “a red vehicle.” But that information alone does not seem enough to warrant pulling over just any red car without probable cause. And if Newmerzhycky signaled –as the video shows– there certainly seems plenty of evidence for an attorney with a background in search and seizure and Constitutional Law to adequately defend the California poker pros.
And that is precisely what happened. Newmerzhycky and Davis fought a forfeiture complaint filed by the state of Iowa that sought to keep the bankroll confiscated by the Iowa cops. The poker pros hired an attorney in Iowa who managed to work out a settlement in which $90,000 of the bankroll was returned. Less, of course, the lawyer’s standard fee of one-third.
But there is a bit more to the traffic stop, which occured on April 15 of all days. A date that online poker players know all too well as Black Friday, the virtual shutdown of major poker sites in the U.S. in 2011.
More than money found
Newmerzhycky was apparently going to be let go by the coppers with merely a warning until his nervousness prompted one of the troopers to ask if there happened to be any drugs or cash in the car and requested a search of the rented vehicle. Newmerzhycky said there was not and resisted to the search, asking if he was obligated to submit to such a search and was told by the trooper that he was not.
The California pro indicated that he’d “prefer to be on my way,” but the cop was insistent and called in a police dog. That’s when the $100K was found, along with a grinder –a device used to grind marijuana in order to better process the weed before smoking.
The grinder contained “small pieces” of marijuana, prompting the trooper to cite the out-of-state driver for possession of drug paraphernalia, the Des Moines Register reported. That was the only citation Newmerzhycky received from the traffic stop, despite the fact that both he and Davis possessed medical marijuana cards issued in California.
Iowa cops alert California cops
The pros were allowed to leave with the single citation and without their bankroll, but law enforcement in California was made aware of the traffic stop by the Iowa troopers. Based on that information –which all stemmed from the questionable traffic stop –their homes in the Golden State were searched the next day.
Marijuana was discovered and both players faced felony drug possession charges. Those charges were eventually dropped after California prosecutors viewed a tape of the Iowa traffic stop.
Davis and Newmerzhycky are now hoping to win a monetary judgment in a court of law by filing a case against the Iowa officers that takes offense to the traffic stop that seemingly had no basis under the U.S. Constitution.
There is absolutely nothing illegal or uncommon about people driving through the United States with out-of-state plates … and carrying amounts of cash,” said Glen Downey, the Iowa attorney representing the poker pros. “There’s nothing illegal about carrying cash, and yet law enforcement begins to treat individuals who are carrying cash as if they are criminals.”
Lives of pros affected by bogus stop
Davis claims to have lost considerable income by the seizure of the bankroll, as he could no longer buy into poker tournaments. Newmerzhycky suffered some health issues following the incident, which he claims were brought on by the illegal traffic stop.
Newmerzhycky has $21,961 in live tournament cashes, according to the Hendon Mob database. His best score was at the WSOP in 2012 where a 124th place finish in a $1,500 NLHE Re-Entry was good for $4,595.
Davis, on the other hand, has won $259,267 by cashing in 13 events dating back to 2010. He has six WSOP cashes, including a couple this year. The bulk of his earnings came at the 2010 WSOP when a 4th place finish in $1,000 No Limit Hold’em brought a payday of $206,904.
Odds are another payday is likely in the cards when the lawsuit runs its course or prompts a settlement of some sort. The state of Iowa is mired in a number of legal skirmishes involving traffic stops by its perhaps overzealous state troopers. A number of those lawsuits entail stops of drivers with non-Iowa license plates.
Take a look at a video of the traffic stop below.