For most passengers at the airport in Tucson, Arizona, waiting in baggage claim is the last thing to do before going home.
But the Tucson baggage claim areas is where federal drug agents are on the lookout for passengers that they think are operating as money couriers for drug traffickers. In the last 36 months, these anti-drug trafficking efforts have led to a total of $550,000 being seized in the Tucson International Airport, Pima County, Arizona Superior Court records show.
In most of the 30 cash seizures at the airport since the end of 2014, DEA agents approached airline passengers as they went through the baggage claim area. They would question them about where they were traveling, and sometimes would remove cash from their backpacks, purses, suitcases and even their pockets.
DEA agents did not put anyone under arrest when they seized the money. Instead, they gave the passengers receipts and let them go. All but one of the cash seizures was done without a warrant. No illegal drugs were ever found, except for small amounts of marijuana in two cases.
In some of the cases, the cash seizure DEA agents noted in affidavits that they went up to certain passengers after various DEA offices in other US cities told them about certain passengers who were making one way ticket purchases at the last minute and were not checking bags. These are the common traits of money couriers for drug traffickers. DEA agents have been seizing cash from suspected drug money couriers since 1975.
The passengers is Tucson who were suspected to be drug money couriers included an 18 year old male from New York who was carrying $19,000; a 30 year old female with two small children who was carrying $12,000 from Iowa; a 42 year old woman who worked at a fast food restaurant in Tucson with $7000; and a 33 year old Texas man carrying $8000.
Cash Seizures Becoming More Common Across America
The cash seizures in the Tucson airport are just part of a larger trend across the United States. Cash can be seized by the DEA, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as state and local law enforcement. Below are some other recent cases of cash seizures in various states by other branches of law enforcement:
Largest Cash Seizure Ever in Perry County, Tennessee
The biggest cash seizure in Perry County, Tennessee history was accomplished in early October 2017 due to the efforts of a new narcotics investigator.
On Oct. 7 at 9:50 PM new narcotics investigator Joe Donaldson placed a driver under arrest for driving with a revoked license. As he was doing an inventory of the car, he discovered $98,000 in backpacks, as well as meth and drug paraphernalia.
Chief Deputy Bart Rosson, Lt. Koblitz, and Deputy Charlie Jones helped the new investigator during the arrest, as well as with the seizure of the cash, drugs and car.
The money that was seized by law enforcement was counted in front of several workers for the department on camera and put in a vault. The sheriff stated that he hoped that the money would be put into the departmental drug fund. He added that he would like to see the money used to buy new equipment and patrol cars to help the county to fight its illegal drug problem.
Cash Seized At Scene of Murder Cannot Be Kept By State
Sometimes when cash is seized that is obviously drug money, it still cannot be kept by law enforcement if all the rules were not followed.
A judge in Strafford County, Vermont ruled this week that the state may not keep thousands of dollars that it seized during the search of a Farmington, Vermont home where two women were murdered in early 2017.
Christine Sullivan, 48, and Jenna Pellegrini, 32, were murdered with a knife in the home of Dean Smoronk on Jan. 27. Prosecutors allege that Tim Verrill, 35, killed both women. He has been charged with two counts of second degree murder.
On February 3, the Vermont state police searched the house and discovered $14,000 in cash that they claimed was related to drug activity. Court documents stated that when the police went into the master bedroom, they discovered various drugs, syringes, a meth pipe, a clipboard with a white envelope, and a ledger of various drug sales that had been done in 2017.
Police also stated that they found illegal drugs in two other bedrooms, and they found a digital scale with white powder and a bag of another white powder inside of a tin. This item was in a Fedex package.
Smoronk’s attorney filed the motion to dismiss the forfeiture case. Judge Mark Howard allowed it in September. The attorney argued that the state AG’s petition was not filed on time. It was filed 61 days after the filing period had begun. This is beyond the limit under law of 60 days.
However, the judge stated that the petition was indeed filed a day outside the statutory filing period. This means that the petition must be dismissed.
$112,000 in Cash Seized in Nashville
Two people were placed under arrest in Nashville, Tennessee in late September after a six-month investigation into heroin trafficking. Police stated that they seized $112,000 in cash, two pounds of heroin, and three guns.
One of the men, Tommy Myles, 40, has been hit with a money laundering charge and was freed on a $75,000 bond. The other man, Kendrick Perry, 36, faces both drug and gun charges. He is currently being held on a $155,000 bond. He also has earlier convictions for marijuana and cocaine possession.
Police noted that Myles was put under arrest on Sept. 27 after he was in receipt of a large amount of cash from Perry. When the police stopped the rented SUV driven by Myles, they discovered more than $58,000 in cash, four cellphones and a handgun. Myles told the police that the cash was from a drug deal.
Perry was stopped a few days later. He had 30 grams of heroin on him, and his pickup truck also contained a gun, 95 grams of heroin and $20,000 in cash.