City moving to keep $632,545 confiscated in traffic stop

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 8, 2003

[8/8/03]No one has yet claimed $632,545 in cash and a pickup police seized a year ago, so Vicksburg’s legal staff plans to move ahead in seeking a court order saying it belongs to the city.

The money was taken from the gas tank and from under the hood of a truck driven by a man identified as Michael G. Gregory, 58, 107 E. Apache, Hobbs, N.M., on Aug. 26.

By the next day, he had paid a $65 traffic ticket and been released and he hasn’t been seen since.

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The truck was determined to be owned by Manuel Velazco, no age available, 1573 Greg Powers, El Paso, Texas, but he hasn’t been heard from either.

City Attorney Nancy Thomas said in order to keep property recovered by police, cities must post notices describing the property and wait 120 days to see if anyone claims it.

That waiting period began on April 3 and has run so Thomas said a forfeiture order from Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick will be sought.

The money is enough to pay 20 police officers for a year, or to fund about 10 percent of the Vicksburg department’s $7 million annual budget. It has been in a bank account, drawing interest.

Records show Patrol Officer Bo McLeod stopped the 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche Gregory being driven on Interstate 20 near Indiana Avenue at 5:47 p.m. on suspicion of erratic driving. McLeod is a K-9 officer, and his drug-smelling dog, Tongo, detected a residual smell of drugs from the truck after it was stopped, Police Chief Tommy Moffett said the next day. No drugs were found.

After the seizure, information in the case was shared with federal authorities, but no federal criminal charges have been filed in the case, said Charlie Brown, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Jackson office. Mark Culbertson, the Vicksburg Police’s investigations chief, also said he knew of no criminal charges filed in the case.

Police conducted part of their search at the scene of the traffic stop, finding $15,000 in cash wedged near the truck’s radiator.

The truck was then moved from I-20, and a more complete search yielded 19 bags containing money inside the truck’s gas tank. Police said the money was in $50 and $100 bills.

The forfeiture law allows confiscation of all money “found in close proximity to forfeitable controlled substances, to forfeitable drug manufacturing or distributing paraphernalia or to forfeitable records of the importation, manufacture or distribution of controlled substances.”

City officials have said the funds would be added to the police department’s budget.