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Poker players sue over $100K kitty seized by police

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DES MOINES, Iowa » Two California poker players have filed a lawsuit against two Iowa State Patrol troopers and a special agent alleging that authorities illegally seized more than $100,000 that the players used to bankroll their gambling during a traffic stop last year.

William "Bart" Davis and John Newmerzhycky filed their lawsuit this week in federal court in the southern district of Iowa, The Des Moines Register reported. They contend that after a poker tournament in Illinois, a state trooper pulled them over on an Iowa highway in April 2013 and accused them of failing to use a turn signal. The trooper called in backup and had the car searched, according to the lawsuit.

The men say the search was illegal because there was no probable cause for it. They say dash camera video on the trooper’s vehicle shows the car used a turn signal.

The men were interviewed at a separate location and released that day. Newmerzhycky was cited for possession of drug paraphernalia after a grinder with "small pieces" of marijuana was found inside his computer bag, according to a report.

The money inside the car was seized. The men got $90,000 of it back as part of a settlement with Iowa officials.

The men were also issued felony drug charges after their California homes were searched based on a tip from an Iowa agent, according to the lawsuit. Both men had California medical marijuana cards. The felony charges were later dropped.

But the men say the seizure of the gambling bankroll, used in tournaments to help with playing technique, affected them. Davis says he was forced to sit out poker tournaments for months, and Newmerzhycky says he suffered a stroke after learning about the California charges.

The lawsuit says Iowa troopers used unfair procedures that target out-of-state drivers and place suspicion on them.

"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, a Des Moines attorney representing the men. "There’s nothing illegal about carrying cash, and yet law enforcement begins to treat individuals who are carrying cash as if they are criminals."

A public safety spokesman said state officials can’t comment on pending lawsuits.

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