An unclaimed fortune discovered in a child's pillow aboard a Skywest Airlines plane likely will end up in Salt Lake International Airport's anti-drug budget.
Maintenance workers were cleaning out the plane last month when they found the money sewn inside the pillow decorated with a scene from the Disney movie "101 Dalmatians."Authorities called everyone on the flight's manifest, but no one would claim the cash, said Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Clark Harms.
The Jan. 26 seizure added to the thousands of dollars Utah police rake in every year from suspected drug traffickers.
"It's saving taxpayers money by allowing us to upgrade our equipment," said sheriff's Sgt. Darren Carr. "This way, dealers are subsidizing narcotics enforcement."
A supervisor in the sheriff's neighborhood narcotics squad, Carr recently seized $34,050 off a Greyhound bus after a passenger shot himself to death.
Salt Lake City is at a crossroads of interstate drug traffic, which occasionally means seizures of large shipments of dope and cash by local police.
"We are a central stopping spot for money going west. The drugs move through here going east," Harms said.
The money in the pillow started its January journey to Salt Lake City on an afternoon Skywest flight from Grand Junction, Colo. The cleaning crews called airport police when they discovered the cash.
"It was all in 20s and 100s, denominations most likely used by drug traffickers," Harms said. "Whoever had it probably had children they were using as a cover."
Two narcotics-sniffing dogs "alerted" on the money, indicating that the cash was probably tainted with drug residue.
Harms filed a forfeiture lawsuit captioned "State of Utah vs. Ten Thousand Dollars, United States Currency," alleging the money on the plane was drug profits.
Civil libertarians criticize such actions as an abuse of constitutional protections. That no one claims the cash merely indicates the owner does not want to invite police scrutiny.
"It is a further chipping away of our rights as Americans to due process," said Carol Gnade, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Utah chapter.
Harms recently won the forfeiture of the $34,050 from the bus. That money was found Nov. 1, after a Salvadoran immigrant inexplicably put a bullet through his chest while riding down Parleys Canyon east of Salt Lake City, police said. The dead man and his cousin were taking the bus from Omaha, Neb., to California.
When sheriff's deputies investigated the death, they found stacks of money in a bag belonging to the cousin, Armando Jessie Lemus. The cash was in stacks of $1,000 bound with rubber bands, mostly in denominations of $10 and $20, Carr said.
Lemus had no explanation for the money, and authorities let him go, lacking hard evidence of criminal activity. However, they kept the cash.
Officers took the loot to a locker room at headquarters and hid it before setting a drug-sniffing dog loose. The dog went to the locker with the money and signaled a positive hit.
Lemus, who listed a California address, never responded to the state's forfeiture action and a 3rd District judge ordered the money forfeited to the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.