One Million Dollars in Bail Bond money seized by law enforcement

To make sure a suspected drug trafficker stayed in jail while awaiting trial, the prosecutor asked the judge to impose a $1 million cash-only bond.

The family delivered it in duffel bags and cardboard boxes full of $5, $10 and $20 bills wrapped in rubber bands. There was so much cold cash that it took 30 hours to count it.

But to no avail.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled this week that the money was probably obtained through illegal means, and he refused to release the defendant.

A second judge then allowed the money to be seized by the Arizona Attorney General's Office. It was the first time state prosecutors used a provision of federal case law to ensure that a flight-risk defendant wouldn't jump bail.

"I have long been concerned that some defendants use illegally obtained funds to make bail and as a result become serious flight risks," said Attorney General Terry Goddard in a formal statement.

"We applaud the court for taking the highly unusual step of looking carefully into the sources of the money."

Armando Gamboa Molina is charged with two counts of possession of narcotics for sale, conspiracy, racketeering, money laundering and misconduct with weapons.

According to court records, Gamboa Molina, 43, of Phoenix, and seven others were arrested June 2 after two weeks of wiretaps and surveillance. During the bust, authorities seized 36 kilograms of cocaine, 31 pounds of methamphetamine, $1 million and several weapons. The drugs were worth close to $900,000 and had a street value of approximately $1.9 million.

The Attorney General's Office said that more charges may be pending.

Bond for Gamboa Molina was set at $1 million.

"I request high bonds like that because I know the access that drug traffickers have to a lot of money," said the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Paula Alleman.

According to Gamboa Molina's defense attorney, Herman Alcantar, the defendant's father claimed he sold valuable property he owned in Mexico and then converted the currency at a casa de cambio, a currency exchange, in Mexico.

"I was blindsided by the money coming in," Alcantar said.

But he claimed he saw the documents for land sales that totaled more than $1 million. Alcantar said he would have advised the family to move more slowly. Instead, they brought the money to a bail bondsman who gave them a cashier's check with which to pay.

After receiving the check, Alleman requested a "Nebbia" hearing, named for a federal court case regarding the source of money put up as bond, to have a judge determine whether it was legitimately obtained. It was the first time state prosecutors have used the Nebbia hearing in Arizona.

"Even if it was a situation where it was someone (who always) dealt only in cash, then it would be money in bank wrappers, when instead it was piles of money of all different denominations in one pile," Alleman said.

And there was no record of how it got from Mexico to Arizona.

"One of the points I made during the hearing is they said they brought the money up from Mexico," Alleman said, "and you have to declare over $10,000 when you cross the border, but they hadn't declared any of it."

Judge Thomas O'Toole refused to accept the money as bond. Presiding Criminal Judge James Keppel ruled that the Attorney General's Office could seize the money.

Alcantar, who claims that his client is a low-level participant in the drug operation, said, "It's going to be an uphill battle getting that money back."

Source: Michael Kiefer
The Arizona Republic

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