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What do law enforcement agencies do with the items they seize from drug raids?

With drug trafficking charges still pending against the owner of a Bluffton plumbing company, a parallel civil proceeding is moving ahead to determine what happens to vehicles, weapons and cash seized by local authorities as part of the investigation.

When the Beaufort/Jasper Multi-Agency Drug Task Force arrested Gerardo Duran-Jauregui, 33, and five other men in August, they seized a dozen vehicles, four trailers and more than $138,000 in cash, as well as 35 pounds of cocaine, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. All six men were charged with one count of trafficking cocaine, a felony charge that carries a jail sentence of 15 to 30 years.

While the drugs will be destroyed, the fate of the weapons, cash and vehicles is more uncertain.

"It's a process," said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner. "We seized vehicles, guns -- pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down, so to speak. There's a chance a good bit of that stuff will go to auction."

That process begins with prosecutors from the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office filing a civil complaint to seize the property, said Daniel Brownstein, spokesman for Solicitor Duffie Stone.

If a judge rules that the money and property seized by police was used in the sale and distribution of drugs, they are considered forfeitures and are turned over to the seizing agency or ordered to public auction, according to state law.

Such auctions in Beaufort County are uncommon since the property seized in drug raids are rarely worth hanging on to, Stone said.

"Most drug forfeitures are junk that isn't worth much of anything or they have bank liens against them or have been mortgaged so much that it's not worth seizing them," Stone said.

Should an item be sold at auction, the proceeds would be divided, with 75 percent going to the seizing agency, 20 percent to the prosecuting agency and 5 percent to the state's general fund. Cash seized during drug raids is divided the same way, according to state law.

The proceeds from auction sales and cash seizures must be used for drug enforcement activities, education or toward prosecuting drug offenses.

Tanner said his deputies occasionally find internal uses for seized property, a practice permitted under state law.

"If we seized 10 vehicles that were each worth $2,000, we could go to a dealership and trade them for two good cars worth $20,000 and use them as undercover vehicles," Tanner said. "It all depends on what we seize and its condition."

The fate of vehicles, weapons and cash seized during the Duran investigation won't be determined until drug charges against the former owner of Duran Plumbing Services have been adjudicated. Those charges are still pending, according to court records and Cpl. Robin McIntosh, Sheriff's Office spokesman.

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