City trying to keep cash seized in I-20 traffic stop

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 14, 2002

[11/14/02]Nearly three months after Vicksburg Police seized $617,555 from the fuel tank of a pickup truck they stopped, the city’s efforts to keep the cash continue.

Patrolman Bo McLeod pulled over the 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche that was westbound on Interstate 20 near Indiana Avenue on Aug. 26. The initial stop was for careless driving and the drug dog riding with McLeod alerted him to the possibility of narcotics in the pickup, Police Chief Tommy Moffett said.

Only trace amounts of narcotics were detected, but the subsequent search and disassembly yielded $632,555, in $50 and $100 bills, all but about $15,000 of it in 19 watertight plastic bags in a compartment inside the gasoline tank, Moffett said. The rest of the money was found under the hood of the truck, he said.

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Within a month, city officials followed through on their stated intention to try to have the money declared city property. And they want the truck, too.

“If there’s a legitimate reason for having it, bring it forward,” City Attorney Walterine Langford said in summing up the Warren County Circuit Court petition she filed on the city’s behalf Sept. 20.

“We don’t know who it belongs to,” Langford said last week. “Nobody has notified us of any claim on this money.”

The state’s forfeiture law does not require a conviction, or even that criminal charges be filed, in such a situation, Langford said.

Under that law, anything intended to be exchanged for illegal drugs is subject to forfeiture, and people claiming ownership of money found with “distributing paraphernalia” can be required to prove such claims in court.

With its petition, the city has also tried to officially notify the Hobbs, N.M., man who was driving the truck, Michael G. Gregory, 57, 107 East Apache, and its listed owner, Manuel Velazco, 1573 Greg Powers, El Paso, Texas, of its claim. After the 5:47 p.m. stop Gregory was held briefly by police, paid a $65 careless driving ticket and was released. He hasn’t returned.

Any money the court allows the city to keep would be added to the police department’s budget, which is currently about $7 million, city officials have said.

After the seizure, Deputy Police Chief Richard O’Bannon said local police shared the information they had on the matter with federal authorities, but that the VPD would not necessarily be informed if federal charges were filed or if the money was linked to illegal drug activity.