Note: interesting in several aspects.
NPD taps illicit cash to pay for a new station
Suspected drug cash can be used for positive public means once it has
been formally forfeited. The Nogales Police Department is trying to
collect forfeited cash to help it replace its out-of-date headquarters.
Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 8:11 am
NPD taps illicit cash to pay for a new station
By Marisa Gerber
For the Nogales International
Sometimes positive outcomes are born of bad practices.
Take, for example, the Nogales Police Department's planned funding
method for a new station.
The department, with its 56 uniformed officers and 18 other staffers,
says it has outgrown its current digs at City Hall, which were built
in 1978 to accommodate 30 people. But when an effort to convince the
city council to finance a new station with bond and grant money fell
short of support, NPD needed a Plan B.
So now it's turning to another, relatively abundant source of funding
in Santa Cruz County, one that doesn't place an additional burden on
taxpayers: forfeitures of "dirty" money.
For years, local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies have
relied on cash forfeitures to help pay for things ranging from Little
League sponsorships and college scholarships to D.A.R.E. programs,
law enforcement vehicles and crime-fighting equipment. And so Police
Chief Jeffrey Kirkham decided the NPD would crack down on cash
smuggling along Interstate 19 to turn his plans for a new station
With the help of a half-million dollar grant from the state Attorney
General's Office, the department has seized close to $1 million in
suspected drug trafficking proceeds since Kirkham became chief in
But the department's aggressive cash-seizure effort is bypassing
traditional channels for cash forfeiture cases in Santa Cruz County.
And the county's fund for forfeited cash, which is controlled by
County Attorney George Silva, is emptier than usual.
"Right now, my fund is kind of running low, so I'm not doing a lot of
donations for youth organizations," Silva said. "It really hurts not
to be able to do it, but it's kind of where we're at."
In order to search someone's car for cash, Kirkham said, an officer
must first stop them for some other violation- say, for example,
If, while interviewing the person, an officer develops "reasonable
suspicion" that there is drug money on board, they can search the
vehicle, Kirkham said. The cash is often stashed in secret
compartments, he said, and the department has dogs trained to sniff
Eight of the department's officers are certified to work the I-19
Southern Border Alliance program, which targets drug and cash
traffickers, Kirkham said. Not only did the state AG's office train
the officers how to best spot trafficking procedures, they also
helped fund the beefed-up patrol.
The Nogales Police Department landed the $500,000 grant from the
office last year, Kirkham said, and has used it to buy equipment and
a cash-sniffing canine. A bulk of the grant money, however, goes to
the officers, who are paid overtime to work the program.
Kirkham stressed that since the officers are working overtime, the
department hasn't skimped on anything to search for cash.
"Our officers are not taken away from their normal duties," Kirkham
said. "We continue to respond to calls. We did not lower our staffing
in other areas to do this."
"We're about at the $1 million mark," Kirkham said of the amount of
cash NPD has seized since he became chief, adding that he thinks the
department needs between $3 and $5 million to build a new facility.
When asked about concerns that the department's new station would be
constructed using once-dirty cash, Kirkham said that he didn't "see
"The more we can get and put into this idea of building a facility
alleviates the taxpayers, who would be burdened with more bonds,"
Kirkham said. "If we can do it without the burden, that's a positive
Just don't expect it to happen too fast.
Andrew Pacheco, chief counsel of the financial remedies section of
the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said there's a hefty lag time
between when the cash is seized and when the agency actually gets it.
Even at "lightening fast" speed, Pacheco said, the process takes 120
days and often, depending on the amount of litigation, it can take
Once seized, the cash sits in an interest-bearing bank account until
the case makes its way through the court system, Pacheco said. If the
cash was, in fact, wrongly seized the owner gets it back - plus the
The percentage of cash pocketed by the prosecuting agency - in this
case the state Attorney General's office - also depends on how much
litigation the case needs, Pacheco said. Typically, though, there's
an 80-20 split between the law enforcement agency - such as the NPD -
and the AG's office.
Pacheco said his office not only has a long-standing forfeiture
program, but also a cadre of 10 or so attorneys dedicated solely to
"We really serve as a resource to the whole state," Pacheco said.
Like the Attorney General's Office, the Santa Cruz County Attorney's
Office is in the business of cash forfeitures. The local
prosecutorial agency processes all cash seized by the multi-agency
Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force.
The Nogales Police Department, which is part of the task force, used
to take its money to the county attorney, which controls and divvies
up the RICO - Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations - funds,
However, since it received the Southern Border Alliance funds, the
NPD has started to take the bulk of its money to the state Attorney
"We just lost $400,000," Silva said of a recent seizure that's being
prosecuted by the Arizona Attorney General. Nogales police officers
working the I-19 program late last month stopped a car for a traffic
violation and eventually found the cash stashed inside.
Still, Silva said, his biggest concern is prosecuting the smugglers.
"I just want to make sure the Attorney General's office is
prosecuting," Silva said. "Losing money, that's part of the deal, but
if you send someone to prison, it has more bite."
Despite the loss of some NPD-seized funds, the County Attorney's
Office still gets money from cash seizures made at the Nogales ports
of entry. When U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizes cash at the
border, they refer the case to U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI), another
ICE HSI has a $150,000 threshold, Silva said, meaning that
forfeitures below that amount often get kicked down to the County
Larger cases stay with the feds.
For example, in November 2010, a 25-year-old Mexican woman named
Judith Angelica Ayala-Partida tried to smuggle more than $900,000
into Mexico through Nogales. Seven months later, she pleaded guilty
in U.S. District Court and forfeited the cash.
But in September 2011, when a 40-year-old Mexican woman and her two
teenage children were arrested at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry
after a botched attempt to smuggle $100,000 across the border, ICE
HSI turned the case over to NPD for local prosecution. (See story on
Cash seizures at the ports are down, however. U.S. Customs and Border
Protection said in late January that it had seized nearly $1.8
billion in suspected drug cash at Arizona's ports since new federal
fiscal year began on Oct. 1. That compared with nearly $5 million
seized during the same time period a year ago.
The local RICO fund is also lower than usual, Silva said. He
estimated that it now holds roughly $60,000, though he added that the
amount fluctuates greatly. Sometimes the fund has nothing in it, he
said, but there was one point three years ago when it held between
$700,000 and $800,000.
And while the state AG generally divides cash seizures on a 20-80
basis with the corresponding law enforcement agency, Silva said his
office doesn't take a cut of forfeiture cases and doesn't earmark the
funds specifically for the agency that brings them in. Instead, all
seized funds go into the same RICO account.
"It's a small community. Everything goes into one pot," he said.
"That's the way it was, and it worked."
Nowadays, he said, "More people want to get their hands in the cookie
jar." Though he noted the federal government's legitimate claim to
money that its law enforcement officers seize.
"In my perspective, it's great if the money comes to us, but I also
understand that the feds need the money," he said.
As for the NPD's I-19 seizures now being processed by the state AG's
office, Silva insisted he doesn't mind too much that he's missing
out, since he knows the police department is saving up for a new
station. "All of that is coming back to our community," he said.