City to keep $632,545 picked up in traffic stop

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 2, 2003

[12/2/03]Vicksburg will apparently go car shopping with a record $632,545 seized in a traffic stop a year ago.

Warren County Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick entered an order Monday finding that the money had been abandoned, and that the city could keep the cash, plus interest it has earned.

The money was found hidden in the gas tank and under the hood of a truck stopped for a traffic violation on Interstate 20.

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City attorneys filed a motion seeking to keep the funds after the driver of the truck, identified as Michael G. Gregory, 58, 107 E. Apache, Hobbs, N.M., paid a $65 fine and has not been heard from since.

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.

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.

Vicksburg Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon said the funds should be put into the city’s general fund and made available for the department. It is enough to pay 20 officers for a year, or to fund about 10 percent of the department’s $7 million annual budget.

“We need about 20 (patrol) cars,” O’Bannon said.

He said the department had planned to buy those cars in this year’s budget, but that the funds were not allocated. Mayor Laurence Leyens said at the time that if the city was able to keep the $632,545 the department could use it to buy cars.

Records show Patrol Officer Bo McLeod stopped the 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche that Gregory was driving on Interstate 20 near Indiana Avenue 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.

No drugs were found, and Gregory was charged only with a traffic violation.

After the seizure, information in the case was shared with federal authorities, but no federal criminal charges have been 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 city also kept the truck.