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Police Divide Up Drug Dealers’ Assets

Times Staff Writer

Irvine police officers were looking for evidence in a robbery when they searched an upscale tract home one day in 1984, but what they found was $188,000 in cash the robbers had missed. Most of it was handed over this week to Police Chief Leo Peart.

The money was part of $1.25 million in forfeited drug money distributed among six California law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and three Orange County agencies, under a federal law that allows police to take over the assets of narcotics traffickers.

Irvine’s check for $124,434 stemmed from a phone call to police on Dec. 18, 1984, from a housekeeper who said her five employers were being held handcuffed on the floor of their home by gunmen demanding money.

Sgt. Leo Jones, head of the department’s narcotics unit, said he was called to the home when investigators grew suspicious of the occupants, all of whom were native Colombians with an obviously expensive life style and no apparent means of support.

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Dog Sniffs Out Money

When residents refused to say what was in the safe taken by the robbers, Winston, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s narcotics dog, was called to the scene.

Winston sniffed out the $188,000 stuffed in a shoe box behind a headboard, hidden in a cosmetic bag in a closet and concealed in a laundry hamper.

None of the residents at the time seemed to know who the money belonged to, although one later claimed that he had earned it as an auto mechanic and another said later he earned it as a meatpacker in Medellin, Colombia. All four had histories of drug-related arrests, authorities said.

Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates accepted a $20,739 check Monday as a result of Winston’s efforts.

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Daryl Gates and Sheriff Sherman Block accepted checks for $295,928 each in the seizure of $1.4 million in cash from a Van Nuys home in June, 1985, in one of the largest such operations in the county’s history. About $400,000, seized with a search warrant, was found in a suitcase in the home. The other $1 million was hidden in a cardboard box in the garage.

The Santa Ana Police Department received a $369,910 check for its role in the Van Nuys investigation, and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement accepted a check for $147,964.

“It is more than poetic justice that assets seized from drug traffickers should be used in the fight against them,” said U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) said in a press conference held with U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner to announce the asset distributions.

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Local law enforcement agencies, Wilson said, “are entitled to have the tools necessary to make a war on drugs something more than an empty promise.”


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