What was once touted as the country's largest drug money seizure so far in 1988 has been ordered returned to two men who were transporting the cash.
However, the Internal Revenue Service has ordered a lien on half of the $1.1 million originally seized in September."It's just plain, old, dirty street money, folks," claimed Utah Public Safety Director John T. Nielsen when the money was seized by a Utah Highway Patrol trooper on I-70 near Salina, Sevier County.
The money was found in a false bottom of a pickup truck when the trooper searched it after a traffic stop. The vehicle was stopped for driving without license plates.
Although part of a marijuana cigarette was discovered along with the $1,137,658, no marijuana charge was filed. Mark Budaska, 36, and Ken Lee Medlock, 40, both of Marina del Rey, Calif., were charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
The possession charge was dismissed. The conspiracy charge has not been dropped, a county official said Monday.
But after a hearing in which the county attorney's office tried to make the case that the money had connections to drug sales, 6th District Judge Don V. Tibbs ruled that it must be released.
That did not mean all of it could continue on its journey.
"In order to forestall the release of all of that money on the theory that there may be unpaid taxes relating to that money, the IRS has filed a lien," said U.S. Attorney Brent D. Ward. He believes about half of the amount was attached by the federal agency.
The IRS is investigating whether taxes are due on it from a man who says he is the legitimate owner of the cash, Ward said.
"He's come into the court down there (in Richfield) and apparently satisfied the judge that not only is he the owner, but the money is not drug related."
If the IRS discovers no tax is owed on the money, "the balance . . . will be released also," he said.