Sevier County officials want to retrieve $189,000 of alleged drug money through the federal courts following a ruling by the Utah Supreme Court.
"We have asked the U.S. attorney's office in Salt Lake City to file for federal forfeiture proceedings," said Sevier County Attorney Don Brown. A recent ruling of the state's Supreme Court concluded the money that was seized in January 1993 was illegally taken by the county.A similar case, but involving less money, resulted in Sevier County being allowed to keep $35,000. A ruling by state courts that the seizure was illegal was reversed by the federal court.
The current case involves the driver of a vehicle that was stopped for speeding by Sevier County Deputy Sheriff Phil Barney. It was driven by Jorge Ureta of Mexico, Brown said.
The driver consented to a vehicle search and the money was found in a hidden compartment, wrapped in aluminum foil. Barney, in court testimony, said he believed the money was to be used for a drug buy in California. But Californian Jesus Valenzuela claimed he had given it to Ureta to purchase equipment.
In the opinion handed down by the Utah Supreme Court, Chief Justice Michael Zimmerman concluded even if Ureta was traveling through Utah to complete a drug transaction, his actions didn't violate the state's Controlled Substances Act.