Skip to comments.Suitcases Full of Cash On Plane (New Mexico)
Posted on 12/05/2003 8:16:14 PM PST by knak
A tip from an Albuquerque aircraft charter company led Moriarty Police to an airplane with an unusual cargo suitcases full of more than $1 million in cash.
Moriarty Police Chief Bobby Garcia said the two currency-filled suitcases seized from an airplane at the city's airport on Nov. 27 weighed more than 300 pounds. They contained $1,169,896, Garcia said Wednesday.
No arrests have been made in the ongoing investigation.
The events that led to the cash seizure began when a private plane requested an emergency landing at the Moriarty Municipal Airport due to engine problems around noon on Thanksgiving.
Garcia said Kamlesh Rana, 34, of Connecticut was piloting the 1978 Piper six-seater airplane. Rana told police he was instructed by his supervisor, Carlos Cruz, who owns the Piper aircraft, to fly his passenger from New Jersey to Arizona.
According to the flight plan, Rana and his passenger, Yuri Folks, 31, were traveling from New Jersey with a final destination of Glendale, Ariz., Garcia said.
Once the plane landed in Moriarty, however, Rana could not restart the plane. Garcia said Rana then called Bode Aviation in Albuquerque to request a charter for him and his passenger.
Bode Aviation refused to comment on the events that took place. However, Garcia said the dispatcher at the aviation company became suspicious when Rana told her he had one passenger, whose name he did not know, and 300 pounds of cargo.
After speaking to Rana, the Bode dispatcher phoned Moriarty Police to alert them of her suspicions, Garcia said.
Officers arrived on scene and separated the pilot and passenger for questioning, he said. Neither knew the other's name.
"It was odd that the pilot did not know the name of the passenger, since they had been flying together from New Jersey," he said.
Officers requested permission to search the aircraft and asked if there was anything on the plane they should know about. Both men denied there was anything unusual on the plane, removed their personal belongings and agreed to the search.
Once their items were removed a large suitcase remained in the rear cargo area. Folks and Rana both denied that the suitcase belonged to them.
Police removed the suitcase from the airplane, opened it and discovered, "a substantial amount of cash wrapped tightly in cellophane," Garcia said. At that point police requested assistance from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, Garcia said.
A drug-sniffing dog from the State Motor Transportation Department was brought to the scene to search the aircraft, Garcia said. He said the dog "hit on the plane's front cargo compartment," directly behind the engine. Another suitcase filled with cellophane-wrapped cash was discovered in the front cargo area.
Garcia said no narcotics were found on board the airplane or in either of the suitcases. However, he said the suitcases could have residual narcotics on them, which would alert the drug-sniffing dog.
The money has been kept in a local Moriarty bank since being confiscated. It will be turned over to the FBI as evidence, Garcia said.
Bill Elwell, spokesman for the FBI in Albuquerque, said the pilot was questioned by FBI agents and released.
Folks, however, was not in possession of the necessary documentation to be in the United States, and it has been determined that he is here illegally, said Leticia Zamarripa, public information liaison for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection in El Paso. "He is being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at this time," Zamarripa said.
The FBI believes Folks may be a citizen of Jamaica. Elwell said a judicial process will determine what happens to the money unless one of the parties involved can prove it is legally theirs and they have a reason for having it.
"Can it be legal cash? I don't know," Elwell said. Elwell said there is nothing illegal about carrying, or transporting, large sums of money. However, it is highly suspicious.
He said "nine times out of 10 we are thinking (in these situations) that this could be drug money."
Elwell said he could not comment further due to the pending investigation of the case.
The questioning of the pilot when he tried to rent another plane was routine, according to aviation officials.
Thomas Linn of A-1 Executive Jet Worldwide Charter in Scottsdale, Ariz., said if someone phoned in to request a charter and was not one of the company's regular customers, some preliminary checking would be conducted over the phone.
"We would do some checking for verification of address, passenger list, and (ensure) all passengers are in possession of a current, valid U.S. government-issued identification card," Linn said.
Do you get the feeling they train these dogs to sniff out money just so they can say it is drug money?
I feel so much safer now that it is a crime to carry large amounts of cash. < /sarcasm >
Obviously small bills, lots of ones. Fifty thousand $20s wouldn't weigh anywhere close to 300 pounds. Never heard of a big time drug dealer conducting his transactions in one dollar bills. Give Rana back the money from his laundromat biz and leave the poor man alone!
Does give one cause to wonder, though:
1. Just how did either or both of these schlubs amass all this cash?
2. Or, alternatively, just how did two suitcases full of swag find their way onto this plane full of innocents?
In either event, one would have probable cause to suspect foul play was involved, I suppose. Unless Rana or Folks one had just emptied his mattress...
They should have give me a ring.