More than $1.1 million in suspected drug money was seized by authorities and two California men were arrested after a Utah Highway Patrol trooper discovered the cache in a false bottom of a pickup truck on I-70 near Salina, Sevier County.
Mark Budaska, 36, and Ken Lee Medlock, 40, both of Marina del Rey, Calif., have been charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and with conspiracy to possess a controlled substance.Both were booked into the Sevier County Jail in Richfield after the Wednesday morning incident and remained there Thursday in lieu of $500,000 bail each. The two are scheduled to be arraigned and granted a bail hearing in Richfield on Friday.
Only a small portion of a marijuana cigarette was found on the truck, but two men were arrested on the conspiracy charge after police dogs trained to sniff out illegal drugs responded to the money, according to Utah Public Safety Director John T. Nielsen.
"It's just plain, old, dirty street money, folks," Nielsen told reporters at a news conference on Thursday held to announce what he said was the largest seizure of suspected drug money in the United States so far this year.
He said the westbound truck was stopped because it did not have license plates and that the trooper, who was not identified for his own protection, also found that the truck's registration did not match the identification or the description of the driver.
"You would think they would be more careful than that," Nielsen said after speculating earlier that the money was "the fruits of a large drug transaction."
The trooper discovered the money, which was bundled in stacks of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills worth thousands of dollars apiece, after he saw the false bottom when the truck's sleeping passenger stepped out of the camper.
Nielsen said consent was given before the trooper lifted the false bottom and saw the cash. The $1,137,658 was turned over to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the truck impounded.
Under the Reagan administration's so-called "Zero Tolerance" policy, cars, boats and other valuable items have been seized after minute amounts of an illegal drug were found on them.
Nielsen said if the money is returned to Utah, most of it would go to drug- enforcement efforts, especially in rural areas. The sparsely populated stretch of highway where the truck was stopped is known as "Cocaine Lane."