The buyer, Jose Aguado Cervantes, didn't know about the hidden stash until he was stopped at the U.S.-Mexican border three months later. Cervantes, 67, spent three months in jail as a result.
Cervantes is seeking damages for the government's error, alleging negligence, false imprisonment and false arrest. While an appeals court in Pasadena said Monday that he cannot recover damages for false arrest and imprisonment, his negligence claim against the federal government "is an entirely different matter."
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the government's argument against Cervantes' negligence claim is "patently without merit" and "so off-the-mark as to be embarrassing."
"Cervantes remained similarly unaware of the contraband until its discovery by U.S. customs agents as he tried to cross the U.S. border on Oct. 22, 1999," the appeals court said. "Although Cervantes denied knowledge of the marijuana and informed agents that he had purchased the vehicle at a U.S. marshal's auction, he was arrested and incarcerated."
Government officials eventually dropped the charges, but not before Cervantes spent time in jail awaiting trial.