Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jun 2005
Source: Dispatch, The (NC)
Copyright: 2005, The Lexington Dispatch
Author: Rachel Leonard


A traffic stop on Interstate 85 led to the seizure of nearly $900,000 
in cash Tuesday by Davidson County sheriff's deputies.

Officers with the department's Interstate Criminal Enforcement team 
found $871,471 in a late-model Chevrolet Impala, said Sheriff David 
Grice. Other recent cash seizures pale in comparison.

"It's definitely the largest this year so far, and probably all year, 
and probably the second-largest in the sheriff's department history," 
Grice said.

In February 2004, ICE officers found a record $1.2 million in a 
Chevrolet minivan traveling on I-85, an increasingly popular route 
for drug smuggling.

Deputies stopped the Impala shortly before 11:30 p.m. Tuesday on 
northbound I-85 near the Old Highway 64 exit. Grice said the driver 
was making unsafe lane changes and driving erratically.

Officers found $7,000 in cash on one of the two men in the car. The 
man said the money was a gift from his mother.

After officers received consent to search the Impala, two police dogs 
detected the scent of drugs coming from the vehicle. Deputies found 
the rest of the cash hidden in a secret compartment, Grice said.

The men denied the money belonged to them. "They said they didn't 
know the money was in the car," Grice said.

The Impala was rented in Pennsylvania, Grice said. The two men were 
in their early 30s. One man had a California driver's license; the 
other, a license from Indiana.

The money is being held for safekeeping, and no charges have been 
filed. U.S. Customs Service agents are assisting the sheriff's office 
with the ongoing investigation.

Federal asset forfeiture laws allow officers to seize amounts of cash 
upon suspicion the money is connected with certain crimes, including 
drug trafficking. Unless the owner comes forward to lawfully claim 
the money, it is kept by federal agents.

When cash is seized by a local law enforcement agency, about 80 
percent of the amount is returned to the agency and used to buy law 
enforcement-related equipment. Recently, Grice has used returned cash 
forfeitures to buy new radios for patrol cars and walkie-talkies.

Items on the sheriff's office wish list include new vehicles, an 
evidence room ventilation system, jail renovations and 35 computers 
that must be in place by Sept. 1 to meet State Bureau of 
Investigation encryption standards for access to sensitive data.

Since January, sheriff's deputies have recorded two other large cash 
seizures - one for $109,000 and another for $44,000.
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