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Missing money noted in probe
As investigators try to solve the slaying of a Baltimore federal prosecutor, they are taking a second look at another mystery: the disappearance of about $36,000 in cash introduced as evidence in a bank robbery trial the lawyer prosecuted last year.
Law enforcement sources said yesterday that FBI agents are reviewing the unsolved case of the missing money as they search for clues in the mysterious killing of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna, who was stabbed 36 times and left in a Pennsylvania creek.
The sources cautioned that nothing links Luna, 38, to the missing cash, or the money to his slaying. But the case stands out among Luna's files, all of which were being closely examined as authorities continued to search for suspects in Thursday's killing.
Funeral arrangements for Luna, a well-liked, energetic young lawyer and married father of two, remained incomplete yesterday. Authorities in Lancaster County, Pa., were expected to hold his body until Friday, in part because Luna's wounds -- including what two law enforcement sources described yesterday as ligature marks indicating that his wrists had possibly been bound or held -- could yield important clues about his death.
Investigators think the slaying was the result of a personal relationship that turned violent, and was not a random crime or connected to Luna's work as a prosecutor. Authorities have developed a timeline of his whereabouts in the hours before his death, but they have not identified a suspect or determined whether it would be a state or federal crime.
"First we have to know who did this and why," Lancaster County District Attorney Donald R. Totaro said yesterday in a brief interview at his office.
An autopsy report in the case has not been made public, and forensic pathologist Wayne K. Ross, who performed the examination, has refused to comment. But law enforcement sources said that injuries to Luna's genital area and indications that he might have been restrained have led investigators to believe the motivation behind the crime was highly personal.
Investigators are examining Luna's personal relationships with women and possible financial problems. A law enforcement source said Monday that Luna had about $25,000 in credit card debt.
Luna was reported missing after he returned from home to the federal courthouse in downtown Baltimore late Dec. 3 to complete paperwork for an expected plea agreement the next morning in a drug conspiracy trial. Authorities think he left the courthouse about 11:30 p.m. and traveled toward Philadelphia willingly -- stopping to withdraw cash at one point and to gas up his car at another.
His body was discovered just before dawn Thursday morning, next to his blood-smeared Honda Accord in a field just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in rural Brecknock Township about 75 miles from Philadelphia.
While authorities have focused in recent days on gathering information about Luna's personal life, among his work files being reviewed, the bank robbery trial from last year stands out because of the unsolved crime it produced.
In that case, at least $36,000 was determined to be missing as lawyers wrapped up a three-week bank robbery trial in U.S. District Court against a Baltimore man named Nacoe Ray Brown, who was charged in four Baltimore County robberies that gained attention for their harsh violence, the more than $450,000 the crimes netted and the robber's many disguises:
In one robbery, the gunman wore hospital scrubs; in another, a suit and black fedora.
When investigators arrested Brown and another man, Kevin Hilliard, they found a safe containing about $68,000 in cash. That money -- kept heat-sealed in two or three bulky plastic bags -- was shown to the jury at Brown's trial
In interviews last fall, U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis, who presided over the case, and law enforcement sources indicated that one bag of money apparently was lost somewhere in transit between the courtroom and a government storage area used to hold sensitive evidence during trials.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI agents assigned to the case would have been directly responsible for the money. A stipulated agreement that all exhibits in the case had been properly returned was signed on the last day of the trial by each of the attorneys in the case -- Luna and his co-counsel, Jacabed Rodriguez-Coss, and defense attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell.
Ravenell said in an interview at the time that the money was in the courtroom only briefly. After it was produced as evidence, he said that he understood it was taken to a safe in the building by the government agents or attorneys.
Officials with the U.S. attorney's office have never commented on the case, and spokeswoman Vickie E. LeDuc said yesterday that she could not comment on the investigation and could not confirm or deny that it was being reviewed in connection with the Luna probe.
In Pennsylvania, Totaro also declined to comment.
Special Agent Barry Maddox, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore field office, said yesterday that the missing money case remained unsolved. He said he could not comment on that probe's possible connection to the Luna case.
"We're going to try to look at everything we can to try to find the missing link, so to speak -- the missing piece of the puzzle," Maddox said.
Ravenell and Davis said yesterday that they had not been questioned by federal agents about the missing money since Luna's disappearance. Davis said that the FBI had launched an exhaustive probe when the cash was discovered missing. The judge said he was interviewed twice, and as recently as last spring had provided an agent investigating the case with a complete trial transcript.
Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.