COCAINE POSSESSION CHARGES AGAINST PAIR MAY BE DROPPED
HIDDEN $1.1 MILLION IN SMALL BILLS ISN’T GROUNDS FOR DRUG CASE, ACLU SAYS
Cocaine possession charges may be dropped against two California men who were stopped on I-70 near Salina, Sevier County, while driving a truck with more than $1.1 million in small bills hidden inside.
The case has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, whose executive director questioned the apparent lack of evidence and noted it is not a crime to carry large amounts of cash. No cocaine was found during a search of the truck.Sevier County Attorney Don Brown said Wednesday that unless new evidence turns up against Mark Budaska, 36, and Ken Lee Medlock, 40, the pair will not be prosecuted on charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
A preliminary hearing on the remaining charge - conspiracy or attempt to distribute cocaine - against the two men, both from Marina del Rey, Calif., was continued Tuesday at the request of their attorney, Kristine K. Smith of Salt Lake City.
Smith said the preliminary hearing has been rescheduled for Oct. 7, before 6th Circuit Judge David Mower in Richfield. She said both Budaska and Medlock were still being held in the Sevier County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail each.
The case is being watched closely by the ACLU of Utah, because no drugs were found on the truck after it was stopped by a Utah Highway Patrol trooper on Sept. 21 for not having license plates.
The trooper reportedly obtained permission to search the truck after spotting what appeared to be a false bottom in the truck bed. Underneath was $1,137,658 in bundles of bills ranging in denomination from $1 to $100.
The only illegal drug turned up in the search was a small portion of a marijuana cigarette. The men were not charged in connection with that drug.
Robyn Blumner, ACLU of Utah executive director, discounted the only evidence authorities have acknowledged in the case, that police dogs trained to sniff out drugs reacted to the money.
Any large pile of bills is likely to contain money that has been in contact with drugs, Blumner said, causing a response from trained police dogs.
"If that's all the police have, they and the county prosecutor are walking on shaky constitutional ground," she said. "The mere driving on a particular road with a particular sum of money is not evidence of conspiracy."
Blumner said that it is possible that the men had no knowledge of the money and suggested that their driving without license plates and having marijuana would be absurd behavior for anyone involved in the sale of illegal drugs.
Brown has declined to describe what evidence will be introduced at the preliminary hearing. He said Wednesday that the decision to drop the possession charge was made "after reviewing what we have at this point."
He said that between now and the time the preliminary hearing is held, he'll be looking for additional evidence. Brown said, however, that unless something new is discovered, he will ask the possession charge be dropped at the preliminary hearing.