What started as a routine immigration check in July of 1997 has turned into a windfall for the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department, which will purchase nine new patrol cars with its share of the seized money from a drug bust.
At its meeting Tuesday, March 9, the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners will formally accept $230,736 from the U.S. Customs Agency as the Sheriff’s Department’s share of $460,639 seized July 13, 1997 at the U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint on Interstate 10 west of Las Cruces.
Sheriff Juan Hernandez said the acquisition of the nine new patrol cars will bring his department’s total new-vehicle purchases for 1999 to 31 cars. The department also received the vehicle used by the drug smugglers, a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, which is being used by the department for law-enforcement purposes.
Capt. Kathy Fuller said the investigation began near midnight on July 13, 1997 when two Mexican nationals driving the Jeep came through the Border Patrol checkpoint and claimed they were en route from Tucson to Amarillo, Texas. The Border Patrol agent noticed the Jeep’s license plates were from Pennsylvania and became suspicious when the driver produced a bill of sale indicating it was purchased in Philadelphia only two days prior.
Upon obtaining permission to search the vehicle, the Border Patrol agent employed a drug-sniffing dog, which alerted the officer to a compartment where a small amount of marijuana residue and a large amount of cash – in denominations of 100s, 50s, 20s, 10s and 5s – was discovered.
The Border Patrol alerted the U.S. Customs Task Force, of which Fuller was a participating county agent. The vehicle and cash were seized and the federal government took 20 percent as its processing fee. Of the remaining 80 percent, 63 percent came to Doña Ana County and 37 percent went to U.S. Customs.