Sky Harbor Airport Narcotics Team has Seized $3.4 Million in Cash This Year

phoenix police badge 2.JPG
The young woman seemed nervous as she checked in at the airport gate on July 26, and officers could see her hand shake as she held her ticket.

Abril Save of Tucson had just flown to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport from New York and was preparing to take a connecting flight to her hometown, court records show. But cops had received a tip about her and, after a subsequent computer check told them Save had been busted in 2008 for possessing marijuana for sale, decided to detain her for a moment.

Save admitted she was carrying a load of cash and removed two plastic bags from her purse. Inside them were 982 ten-dollar bills.

Following more questions by investigators, police seized the money -- adding it to a total of $3.4 million confiscated at the airport so far this year.

The Phoenix narcotics team aims to  "dismantle and disrupt as many drug organizations as we can," and seizing money is a great way to accomplish that goal, says Sergeant Jim Cope, who runs the commercial interdiction unit of the department's drug enforcement bureau.

As you've probably heard, the Valley is considered a hub of smuggling for the nation, with drugs and illegal immigrants going out and money coming in. Dealers and smuggling organizations, whether small- or large-scale, often use couriers to bring in money, then export marijuana or hard drugs like cocaine and heroin from Arizona with mail-delivery services or by driving it across the country.

In his eight years stationed at the airport with his street-clothes-wearing team, Cope has seen numerous cases like Save's. Other cases involve air travelers carrying $100,000 or more.

Many couriers don't even know they're carrying large amounts of cash. They're paid by a higher-up in the smuggling organization to take a bag somewhere; the less the courier knows, the better.

"There's people totally shaken when we find money in the lining of a bag," Cope says. "We give them a receipt that they had $100,000, and they're blown away."

Others know too well where the money is: Cope describes one case in which a suspicious traveler was questioned, but cops didn't feel they had enough of a reason to strip-search him. The narcotics officers are usually conservative in their approach, he explains, and try to avoid accusations that they've violated someone's rights for no good reason. When they watched the man walk away, though, Cope says he noticed the guy had an awkward gait.

They took the suspect to a private room and soon found $96,000 in two tightly packed rolls tucked into his butt cheeks.

Phoenix PD doesn't keep all the money that officers find at the airport. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office takes 20 percent off the top of every seizure, and paying off informants comes second. Phoenix police deposit the remainder or split it with out-of-state police departments or federal agencies that participated in the intelligence-gathering process, Cope says.

Phoenix routinely ends up with 55 to 60 percent of the gross total seizures, and the money helps fund new enforcement operations.

While Cope hopes his team's effort reduces both the amount of drugs on the street and the violence that too-often accompanies the illegal drug trade, the seizures sometimes cause violence.

Four-to-six suspects a year are believed to be killed or hurt by members of the smuggling organizations in connection with an airport cash seizure, Cope says. Police believe those people (or victims, as might be the case), had previously been suspected by crime bosses of stealing money.
wad of cash 1.JPG
Image: getpaydayloan.us

More commonly, the seizures help provide information. There's no law against carrying a huge amount of cash on an airplane, so the suspects aren't usually arrested. Police interview and may conduct surveillance on those folks, though, which leads to bigger and better busts.

Cope's got no illusions of ridding the world of drugs. He avoids worrying about the politics of, say, marijuana legalization, and concentrates on doing his work, he says.

If he can make drug dealers believe the airport is too risky, it might cause them take their business elsewhere, he figures.

"If we weren't here, what would it be like?" Cope asks rhetorically. "We're keeping it at bay."

Mistakes are made every now and then. Cops understand that not every person hauling money across the country plans to use it for a drug deal. A couple of years ago, Cope says, two Mexican dudes carrying almost $100,000 in cash were questioned by the airport narcotics team. They turned out to be construction workers who had come to Phoenix to look at a used cement truck they wanted to buy. The deal didn't work out, so they were taking their money home.

In that case, the men showed cops the ad for the truck and had other documentation that backed up their tale. Most drug couriers have no such back-story.

Save, for example, told officers in July that she had gone to New York to buy "knick knacks and purses," but could provide no firm details. She admitted she only made $25,000 last year in her job as a waitress, but implied she'd gotten the cash by selling stuff on the Internet and from receiving $4,000 a friend had owed her.

The officers didn't buy her excuses. They took the money and turned her loose.

Save filed a petition to get the money back the next month, but the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office launched a forfeiture action to keep it. (The federal Drug Enforcement Agency was also involved in the case.)
 
Cope and Phoenix police spokesman Sergeant Tommy Thompson, who worked the narcotics detail for years, tell New Times that the seized cash is a "byproduct" of the over-arching goal to reduce trafficking, and not the focus.

Police use caution to avoid violating the rights of air travelers and coming under suspicion themselves for being too money-hungry, they say. No random searches of passenger manifests are conducted -- their info most often comes from tips by informants or other police agencies.

Once cops draw a bead on someone, though, the rest is easy money.



Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
23 comments
Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

Cops are criminals if they take your cash without charging you for anything.   It's a police state.  They do what they want and what are you going to do about it?    Nothing.  They have the guns and the so called law.   Their job is to enforce the law.   What law says you can't have massive amounts of cash on yourself?    There is none.    So, what law are they enforcing?   None.    They just stole your money.    Police state.

Albert
Albert

The Fifth Amendment-     No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.[1]Really.. this almost seems like they should have due process before any property is taken. And it should be that wishy washy/bogus legal "charges" shouldn't even be allowed.  Because just because they pass a laws, doesn't mean it doesn't violate or potentialy violate the RIGHTS OF AMERICANS...The Constitution is supposed to be the Supreme Law of the land, and we haven't given the Government or the Supreme Court the right to make any changes to the Constitution or any reduction in powers or rights that we may retain under the 9th and 10th Amendments.

Drug War Insanity
Drug War Insanity

Another reason why the War on Drugs will NEVER end, and why Cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug despite thousands of years of human use as medicine and countless studies showing numerous astonishing health benefits well beyond it's already well-established medical applications.  Think for yourself.  Question authority.

Marcy
Marcy

Cops love illegal drugs.

It keeps them fully employed and if they come across some drug money they get to keep it.  

Now if we simply put the evil drug cartels out of business by legalizing drugs then what would happen?

1. Drug abusers would still abuse drugs2. People who don't abuse drugs would still refrain from abusing drugs3. Drug abusers wouldn't shot me to steal my purse to buy some expensive drugs4. Lots of cops would have to find an honest living5. Uncle Sam would have to stop spending billions of dollars on a fruitless war on drugs

Seriously, does anyone on earth believe that cops snatching $10k at an airport keeps one junkie from sticking a needle in their arm or one kid from smoking pot?    The war on drugs merely makes the people fighting the war and the drug cartels rich.

Marcy
Marcy

You have to love that guilty until proven innocent attitude towards people carrying good old American currency.  Why should I have to give any explanation at all for carrying cash of any amount?  

Well, the reason why is simple, cops get to keep the cash so they like to take the cash and unlike proving that someone is actually guilty of a crime when it comes to stealing cash from people cops know that the burden is on the people who had their cash stolen to "prove" it isn't dirty money.   They welcome you to hire an attorney for $5k to get back the $5k they stole from you.

They like stealing cash so much they sometimes sue other police agencies over who gets to keep the loot.

So just remember, cash is evil and dirty and only evil dirty people carry around more than $200 in cash.  

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

why don't they spend that money on offsetting the money wasted on the war on drugs?

PD Profits
PD Profits

 And they the local Fuzz or PHX PD will spend it all on big extravagant Christmas partys for officers and their family's. thanks to you criminals out there for your support of your local PD.. see crime does pay and it pays off.  for the Fuzz anyway.

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

no, all it does is stops the flow of money and makes the products cost more. It's simple economics.

teknik1200
teknik1200

It's a complete crock that they can seize someone's assists without ever charging them of a crime!

Guest
Guest

 Ronald Regans 1980s war on drugs in 2011 thats a joke. they make plenty of pot busts and make it out to be a big deal on tv news but where is all the big meth,cocaine and heroin busts at? you dont hear much about those real hard drug busts and those are the drugs that actually destory ones life quickly.

Guest
Guest

 Because alot of them do drugs themselves. read cops gone bad website to see and read more about crooked cops. cops now days are more worse and perverted than the so called bad guys they chase.

Billy
Billy

 Give Sheriff Joe a raise $$ and buy new tents for the tent city jail.

Marcy
Marcy

In seizure cases they charge the cash with the crime.  Really.  Like the State vs $17,890.

You have to show up in court and defend the dough, with your own dough and without any presumption of innocence OR any requirement that the state prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

One small town in Podunk, USA had a habit of routinely stopping cars with black folks from out of state, searching them and seizing any cash if they had anything substantial (more than a few hundred $$$).  Those folks were welcome to drive back down and defend their money in court, but of course most people didn't have the means or legal ability to do so.

Cops are the new pirates of the road.  

bobunf
bobunf

Actually, the stupid drug war was declared by Richard Nixon in 1971.  Here we are 40 years later (not 30), a trillion dollars poorer, with 3 to 4 million having been imprisoned.  And for what?  Drugs, minus inflation, are cheaper now than in 1971, and nobody goes without for long.  

The United States of America, the land of the free, with the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Sad.  And stupid.

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

Guest that is because in America they do the easy work instead of the hard work. As long as they have the evil boogey men (IE drug abusers to pick on and arrest) then they can keep the money flowing in...

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

I dont need to piss myself off that much. Cops are good and MANY more are bad, evil, vile gross perverts/drug abusers/roid taking jerkoffs.

Now Trending

Phoenix Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...