Crime

'We got bills to pay, sweetie.' Cops forced to return stripper's $19,934 in cash

Miami-Dade police is on the hook for legal bills after cops illegally seized a cache of guns — and nearly $20,000 in stripper cash.

The department has agreed to pay more than $3,000 to defense lawyers hired by Ras Cates, 33, and his wife, Lizmixell Batista, a 20-year-old stripper at Cheetah Gentleman's Club in Hallandale Beach.

Presumably, the legal bills won't be paid in singles.

Back on May 15, an officer pulled over Cates and Batista, his passenger, when their car cut off a patrol car in Miami's West Little River neighborhood. From the car, patrol officers seized six guns, three of them assault-style rifles, plus the cash, suspected marijuana oil and several bottles of powerful codeine cough syrup without a valid prescription.

Miami-Dade police touted the arrest to a local TV station, showing off photos of the guns. “It’s amazing how something as simple as a traffic stop can lead us to crack a lot of cases,” a police spokesman told WFOR-CBS4. “A lot of serial killers are behind bars because of traffic stops."

The couple was charged with armed drug dealing, among other felony charges. But defense lawyers immediately challenged the arrest.

“What is most disturbing is that immediately following the arrest, the department went on TV and engaged in incendiary speculation without knowing the facts or even acknowledging the rampant violations of my clients’ constitutional rights," said defense attorney Jude Faccidomo.

Faced with defense evidence, prosecutors moved quickly to dismiss the case.

Cates told cops he legally owned the weapons, and also had a valid concealed-weapons permit. His story checked out. And body-camera footage showed that an officer, while friendly with Cates, never got permission to search the trunk but instead "commanded defendant to pop the trunk," prosecutors wrote.

"Search of the trunk was illegal," prosecutor Johnathan Nobile said in a memo explaining why the state declined to press charges.

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Ras Cates and LizMixell Batista Miami-Dade Police

Who possessed the drugs or possibly illegal codeine syrup was never clear either, prosecutors said. Neither Cates nor Batista admitted who owned the marijuana. And whether the syrup was actually codeine was also unclear — Miami-Dade police never took the liquid to the forensics lab for testing.

Lawyers for Cates are still trying to get the guns back.

As for the money, the bills were discovered in Batista's purse. Body-camera footage obtained by the Miami Herald showed she immediately told cops about her cash-only job. "I was supposed to go the bank to deposit the money. We got bills to pay, sweetie," she told police.

The Miami-Dade police department's legal bureau, suspecting it was dope money, asked a civil-court judge to allow the department to keep the $19,934 seized in the car. The department said a Miami-Dade police dog, Roxie, alerted that the cash had been "in close proximity" to large amounts of narcotics.

But at the hearing, a fellow stripper named Haley Heath testified that her friend, Batista, earned "significant cash tips" at the Cheetah club.

“I felt that the glitter on the seized cash was compelling evidence, but apparently the police department disagreed," said defense lawyer Faccidomo.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith agreed there was no probable cause for the seizure and ordered the money returning to the couple.

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