Sunday, December 8, 2013
Did you misplace $1.8 million?
If you did, the federal government may have it, and Homeland Security agents are waiting to hear from you.
The cash was found by Maine State Police in the back of a southbound tractor-trailer that they pulled over in Kittery two years ago.
Police insist that they stopped the truck on the Maine Turnpike as part of a routine inspection. If that's true, it was one of their luckiest stops ever.
When troopers searched the truck, they found five-gallon Home Depot buckets lined with plastic bags and filled with bundles of cash.
Police initially estimated the find at $1 million, but admitted they were having trouble counting it all. It was the largest seizure of cash in the state's history.
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ran a public notice in the Portland Press Herald seeking anyone who wants to make a claim to the cash.
Before stepping forward, one might want to consider the money's likely source.
Authorities would not comment on the case specifically because it remains under investigation. But a Customs and Border Patrol official gave a hint Friday:
"We applaud the State Police in their efforts to disrupt the flow of bulk cash smuggling," said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the agency.
Just as drugs flow north from Latin America and the Caribbean to markets in the United States and Canada, cash from the drug trade flows south, police say.
State police weren't specific about what they know or suspect about the money, but spokesman Steve McCausland said at the time: "It's pretty clear the money wasn't headed for the bank."
The driver of the truck apparently wants no part of it.
Jhon Rivera-Ramirez, 35, was charged with a logbook violation, which usually means a driver has exceeded the legal number of hours behind the wheel and not kept accurate records of driving time.
But on the U.S. District Court's electronic database, there is no case in Maine mentioning his name.
McCausland said Friday that he hasn't had any updates since the original seizure.
Any claims to the cash must be submitted within 30 days to Customs and Border Protection's officer of fines, penalties and forfeitures in South Portland.
Of course, the agency won't just turn over the truckload of cash. Instead, a claim would trigger forfeiture proceedings by U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II, meaning the government would try to convince a judge that the money was obtained illicitly and is subject to forfeiture.
If nobody claims the money, the government will deem it abandoned and just keep it.
The legal ad indicates that the Department of Homeland Security is conducting the forfeiture process.
When authorities find money, they can turn it over to a federal agency that has jurisdiction. That agency then goes through the forfeiture process in exchange for about 20 percent of the proceeds.
The remaining money is typically split among the agencies that were involved in seizing it.
That could be good news for the state police.
The $1.8 million wouldn't make a dent in the federal deficit, but even part of it would be a nice windfall for Maine.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: