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Drugs, lies, and license-plate readers: How a drugs-and-gun suspect got caught in a tangle of lies

Smart tried to play the cops, but the Chespeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel license-plate reader caught him
(cbbt.com)

Trezith Rashad Smart of North Carolina drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) into Maryland on April 27 and was pulled over for speeding in Worscester County. The immediate tangle of legal troubles that resulted—he ended up pleading guilty to possessing a small amount of marijuana and having a loaded handgun in his 2008 Honda Accord, and was put on probation—was just the beginning. Again and again, after Smart's car and $39,421 were seized by police, he was caught lying in response to just about everything the cops asked him.

Law enforcers' chief tool in detecting Smart's lies: a license-plate reader (LPR) system on the CBBT.

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The technology, whose use around the country is expanding rapidly, is controversial among privacy advocates. Its application in the Smart investigation, in which the government on Dec. 9 filed suit to keep his car and cash, is cautionary: If you're culpable, it's better to not say anything than to lie.

After being Mirandized and booked on the pot-and-gun charges, and after the bundled cash in a Food Lion bag, two cellphones, a small bag of pot, and the car were seized, Smart told the police a story, according to the lawsuit. He said he was on his way to his girlfriend's house in Philadelphia, though he didn't have her correct last name and didn't know her address, not even the street name. He said he was going to use some of the money—which had been given to him by his father, and all of which was life-insurance proceeds from his grandparents' deaths—to gamble at the Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia. The rest he was going to give to his dad in New Jersey.

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Then Smart kept talking, and "acted as if there was nothing wrong with possessing a large amount of money along with Marijuana and a loaded handgun in his vehlcle," the lawsuit states. He "said that he could provide proof as to how he obtained the money," explaining—and contradicting his earlier statements—that it was a combination of revenue from his real-estate and trucking company, savings from his time in the military, and cash that his father had given him.

The next day, April 28, the Worscester County Sheriff's Office, whose agents had arrested Smart, contacted CBBT police chief Edward Spencer, and asked him to run the license plate of Smart's Accord through the CBBT's LPR system. Turned out, the system had photographs of the vehicle being driven by Smart northbound on the CBBT on April 24, and then southbound on April 25.

These details would prove, the next day, when Smart called the cops to discuss the fate of his cash and car, to be fatal to Smart's made-up story. Asked if he'd left North Carolina during the week prior to his arrest, Smart said no. When told of the LPR photos, Smart replied that it must've been someone else driving his car. Then, when told one of the photos "clearly shows that he is operating the vehicle," Smart "was unable to provide a response."

Smart people with something to hide from the police, unlike Smart himself, would keep their mouths shut and do what the cops, according to the lawsuit, advised Smart to do: "consult with an attorney in reference to this matter."

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