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Suitcase full of cash found in storage unit raises ownership question

Published: Friday, May 11 2012 5:48 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A suitcase full cash — nearly a quarter million dollars' worth — lay hidden in a West Jordan storage unit until police dogs learning to sniff out drugs found it during a training exercise.

Federal authorities suspect it's dirty money, and though the owners of the suitcase weren't charged with any crime, the government is looking to keep the stash.

In March 2011, West Jordan police officer Tom Smith arranged to take several newly certified dogs to King Arthur Self Storage for a "real-world" experience on the last day of a training class. Buster reacted to unit 83-1 as did four other dogs. Smith also let his dog Kuffs and another dog named Starsky run for a "free sniff." Both came back to the same unit.

Smith learned through the King Arthur manager that Cynthia Long Gray was the renter and Daniel Gray was listed as a secondary contact. Cynthia Gray has a criminal history for drug possession, fraud, forgery and retail theft, according to court documents. Daniel Gray's past crimes include drug possession, aggravated assault and weapons offenses.

After obtaining a search warrant, West Jordan police searched the storage unit. Buster went to a large blue suitcase. It smelled like marijuana inside and contained a black duffel bag stuffed with cash, according to court documents.

The cash — $100 and $20 bills divided into small bundles with rubber bands — totaled $230,863.

Contending marijuana odor and the denominations and packaging of the bills are consistent with drug trafficking, federal authorities seized the money.

Cynthia Gray acknowledged ownership of the suitcase but told police she doesn't sell drugs nor were there drugs in the storage unit. "She claimed the money came from a disability settlement for $10,000," court documents state.

In October 2011, Daniel Gray filed a handwritten claim for the $220,863 — mailed to the court from a South Carolina prison located on a street named Goldmine Highway. He inexplicably asked for $10,000 less than was found.

The claim, in part, reads: "They was no violation with this money in it was not used in no exchange for drugs or to buy drugs … They is nothing illegal about the large sum of cash in if rubber bands is illegal in the smell of marijuana is a crime … They was no narcotics in the suitcase our in the storage unit 83-1 so I have a right to a court hearing and a attorney."

Cynthia Gray and Daniel Gray were not charged with a crime in connection with the cash. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, they don't have to be in order for the government to go after the money.

"Our burden is to prove that the money was involved in a drug transaction," said spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch. Prosecutors don't necessarily have to prove who was involved in the crime, she added.

Federal authorities posted a forfeiture notice on a government website and sent notices to the Grays as well as Salt Lake attorney Scott C. Williams, who apparently represented them. Williams did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In March, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups dismissed Daniel Gray's claim because he missed deadlines and failed to comply with federal rules to contest the seizure.

On Wednesday, Waddoups signed an order forfeiting the money to the U.S. government and barring anyone from claiming it. But a day later, he vacated that order without explanation, leaving it unclear as to where the cash will ultimately end up.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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