Nobody disputes that Ronald G. Dewar was carrying $154,000 cash in a brown paper bag and a duffel bag when Buffalo police officers stopped him on Dartmouth Avenue last month.
Police took the cash. Dewar wants the money returned.
Dewar, 23, said he made the money doing odd jobs around Buffalo, according to police. And Herbert L. Greenman, Dewar's attorney, also insists the cash was obtained "through legal means."
Not so, say police. They insist the money came from one of the city's largest and busiest cocaine rings. The money they confiscated Aug. 14 indicates the profitability of drug dealing, say Buffalo officers and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The seizure and a pair of arrests made later that week have dealt major blows to a city cocaine empire run by Richard "Fat Richie" Evans, 37, of 172 Easton St., police say.
Greenman, who also represents Evans, says Evans works as the assistant manager of a Buffalo delicatessen and has not been proved guilty of narcotics charges.
Drug agents say Evans has supplied cocaine for years to as many as 100 smaller Buffalo dealers.
"Evans has probably been the most significant coke trafficker on the East Side and is one of the biggest in the city," said Special Agent George Preston, who heads the DEA's Buffalo office.
In addition to an arrest last month on felony charges of selling two kilograms of cocaine, Evans has five previous arrests dating to 1979, including one on drug charges and four on gambling charges.
The disposition of those charges could not be learned.
Evans -- whose nickname stems from his girth -- has been distributing 6 to 8 kilograms of cocaine in the city every two weeks, according to Buffalo Police Lt. Joseph Riga, who heads a task force of local police officers detailed in the DEA office.
A kilo of cocaine -- 2.2 pounds -- is sold at wholesale for about $20,000 but can be diluted and can bring in $400,000 in street sales, Riga said.
DEA agents say they have no doubt that Dewar, who listed addresses in Buffalo and New York City, was working for Evans' drug ring.
Officers Carl Thompson and Darnell Parker said they took Dewar in because they had reasonable suspicion that he was carrying drug money from the Evans operation.
"We had been following him as he drove a car that we had seen Richie Evans driving on numerous occasions," Thompson said. "He told us the money was his, that he got it working as a chauffeur and working off the books at various odd jobs."
Once inside the Buffalo Narcotics Squad office for questioning about the money, officers said, Dewar threw on the floor a small packet of cocaine. As a result, Dewar also is charged with obstructing governmental administration and possessing cocaine.
The 1987 Buick LeSabre, valued at $13,000, also was confiscated by police. The vehicle and the $154,000 were turned over to the DEA and are in the custody of U.S. marshals.
Unless Greenman wins a federal court ruling that the money and car should be returned to Dewar, 90 percent of the cash and the car eventually will be given to the Police Department under the federal Shared Assets Program. The program is part of the government's "zero tolerance" program, which allows for confiscation of assets narcotics dealers obtained through drug trafficking.
The money seized from Dewar is one of the largest sums in Western New York in recent years. More than $4.5 million worth of cash, vehicles, buildings and other property taken from suspected drug dealers is held by the U.S. marshals office.
Greenman said the confiscation was illegal and will be contested in City Court. He said he was not sure what other legal steps will be taken.
"Basically, the police just ordered him to open his bag. They can't do that," Greenman said.
The attorney denied that Dewar was working for Evans at the time.
Dewar opened the bag voluntarily at the officers' request, Thompson said.
If the money were returned to Dewar, the Internal Revenue Service would put a lien on it, requiring Dewar to explain how he earned the money and why he didn't pay taxes on it, police said.
Meanwhile, Evans and James Gates, 31, of 176 Wyoming Ave. face felony charges of selling two kilograms of cocaine to a DEA undercover agent Aug. 19. The two met the agent in the parking lot of a Niagara Street restaurant after making arrangements for the cocaine deal, officials say.
The two face maximum prison sentences of 40 years and fines up to $2 million if they are convicted on drug conspiracy and sales charges.
The timing of the Niagara Street arrest just five days after the seizure of the money from Dewar was a coincidence, Preston said.
Is the arrest of a man accused of being one of Buffalo's biggest cocaine traders going to stop the ring from operating?
"I would say no," Preston said.