Pubdate: Wed, 03 Mar 2004
Source: Dispatch, The (NC)
Copyright: 2004, The Lexington Dispatch
Author: Rachel Leonard


Two men whose vehicle was stopped last month by Davidson County
sheriff's deputies are scheduled for arraignment this week in U.S.
District Court on federal money smuggling charges involving $1.2 million.

The $1.2 million, which was seized by deputies and handed over to
federal authorities, is the largest seizure ever for the sheriff's
office, said interim Sheriff Dallas Hedrick. About 80 percent of the
money will be returned to the department.

The stop occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Feb. 11 on Interstate 85 in
Davidson County. According to federal grand jury indictments and
information provided by Hedrick, deputies stopped the 2003 Chevrolet
Venture minivan for making an unsafe movement and issued the driver,
Jose Alfredo Martinez, a warning citation.

Deputies then questioned Martinez and his passenger, Jesus Manuel
Escobar-Chao, about their trip and received indicators of illegal
activity. They received consent to search and found approximately $1.2
million in different areas of the minivan, Hedrick said.

The men were detained and arrested the next day by federal agents.
Hedrick said he did not immediately release information about the
seizure under instructions from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

On Feb. 23, a federal grand jury indicted both men on charges of
smuggling cash from the United States to Mexico and traveling in
interstate and foreign commerce with intent to facilitate illegal drug
activity. According to the indictments, the men had traveled from
Mexico to eastern Pennsylvania with the purpose of distributing drugs
and were on a return trip through North Carolina when they were arrested.

Martinez and Escobar-Chao are in federal custody without bond pending
this week's arraignment in Greensboro.

Federal law allows officers to seize money and other personal property
when the property is suspected to be connected to certain crimes,
including drug trafficking. Unless a person comes forward to lawfully
claim the money, the cash is kept by federal authorities.

When money is seized by local law enforcement agencies, about 80
percent of that amount is returned to that agency. Hedrick said he
hopes to use his department's share of the $1.2 million to provide
officers with more training and purchase new equipment, such as a new
fingerprinting machine.

Sheriff's office records show that deputies have seized more than
$750,000 in 2004, not including the $1.2 million seizure. In 2003,
federal authorities returned $269,070 to the department as its
percentage from cash seizures. The department has already used the
money to order two Dodge Durangos, which will be used to process and
transport evidence.

The stops are well worth the effort, Hedrick said.

"It's taken bad guys off the street, and, you know, some of that drug
is coming into Davidson County," he said. "... The more we can hurt
the drug dealers, the better for everybody."
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