PHOENIX – Arizona Department of Transportation officers seized $29,000 hidden in a small cooler when a truck driver and passenger arrived at an Interstate 40 port of entry near New Mexico with no registration, no trailer and a suspicious story.
The officers, whose primary duty is making sure commercial vehicles operate safely and legally in Arizona, found the money Tuesday, Aug. 1, after the truck driver and his passenger gave permission to search the cab for paperwork that would help identify the truck.
The pair told officers at the Sanders Port of Entry that they had no knowledge of the money, which was in stacks tied with rubber bands, and that they had been sent by the truck’s owner to pick up the vehicle because it had been abandoned in Gallup, New Mexico.
A check of the semi’s vehicle identification number and license plate showed that the truck set out from Sacramento, California, and traveled through Utah, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico before arriving in Arizona – all without picking up any cargo.
ADOT officers sought assistance from the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched a drug-sniffing K-9 unit. While there were no drugs in the truck, the dog picked up the residual scent of drugs at various spots along the vehicle. The dog also alerted officers that the money found in the cab had the scent of drugs.
ADOT officers seized the money and arrested the two men, who were booked into the Apache County Jail on misdemeanor charges including providing false information and commercial vehicle violations. The semi was towed to a holding facility for the owner to retrieve.
ADOT officers are continuing to investigate the truck and the two individuals.
In addition to making sure commercial vehicles are safe to drive on Arizona’s highways and have proper permits, ADOT Enforcement and Compliance Division officers at ports of entry coordinate with local law enforcement agencies when necessary.