Just went with the flow and granted the Spot News Award to the San Antonio Express-News -- despite its dropping of Wingo, the only thing I ever really enjoyed about the E-N -- because this is such a fabulous story. But like all great stuff -- Blue Bell, strip bars, lobster, long walks on the moonlit beach -- everything could be better. With that in mind, I offer my humble parenthetical comments on what, without doubt, is the year's best non-astronaut news story.
He found a fortune by Hooters' trash bin?
Web Posted: 02/04/2007 10:57 PM CST
His "head was just crazy" after he found the fortune near a Dumpster outside a Hooters restaurant in Atlanta, he said. (Know the feeling. Billy Clyde has never frequented a Hooters without doing a little Dumpster Diving. Been there, done that.)"Hiding it was my mistake," said Sanchez, 30, his voice trailing off. "But, oh well, it's rough." (You FOUND the dough in the dumpster; why was it a mistake?)
Initially saying he didn't understand English, he granted an interview from his front yard in a neighborhood here bordered by orange groves. (I often forget which languages I speak.)Residences range from beaten-down trailers to posh homes like Sanchez's, which had a few late-model vehicles parked out front and a side building for cookouts where two men traded accordion riffs. (Swanky, upscale subdivisions are generally populated by 30-year-old deputy sheriffs in poor border counties.)
(editors note: Neither the reference to orange groves nor the throw-away mention of "trading accordion riffs" -- two important topics you don't hear much about these days in your major dailies -- appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with the story. But nice touch. I admire reporters who can sneak totally banal stuff by their editors.)
Georgia state police stopped Sanchez late at night Jan. 6 about 40 miles west of Atlanta on a busy interstate for not staying in his lane and having an improper trailer license tag light, according to an incident report. (Racial profiling.)He was pulling a trailer loaded with a small bulldozer called a Bobcat. Sanchez displayed his peace officer's badge and told a trooper he has a landscaping business, had bought the Bobcat on the Internet and was taking it back to the Rio Grande Valley. (Sounds like a long way to travel for a Bobcat, but the Valley's Internet savvy wealthy landscaping law enforcement officers are an industrious bunch.)
But the story didn't jibe with that of his passenger, Eric Simon Vela, 28, who told police they were picking it up from Sanchez's uncle. (My word! Twenty hours in the car together, and you didn't synchronize your stories. Was the stuff on the radio THAT interesting?)Sanchez denied there was anything illegal in the truck, a white 2006 F-350 dually, and said, "It's all yours," when asked if they could search it, according to the report. (Dually = Babe Magnet.)
Handed a consent form to sign, he asked if the search was really necessary. The state trooper assured him it was. ("I assure you this is necessary to find your contraband and arrest your ass.")
When officers found a black duffle bag on the back seat with $16,000 in loose currency, Sanchez got angry and withdrew consent to continue the search, according to the report. But K-9 Misty alerted to the doors, one of them noticeably heavier than normal, giving officers probable cause to search. (Georgia has dogs than can measure the weight of automobile doors?? Why doesn't Texas have these Superdogs?)
Police seized a total of $950,435, mostly in 20s, found in the truck. Sanchez told police he found it near a Dumpster at the restaurant. (That's something like 50,000 twenties. Wow.)
He was let go with a warning on the traffic violation, but if he wants the money back, he will have to argue in court that he acquired it legally. (Billy Clyde is seriously confused. Is cash illegal in Georgia?)
"I am going to check to get it back. I don't know," Sanchez said. "I haven't hired a lawyer." (Uh, that hiring a lawyer thing is probably a good idea.)
He said he hid the loot because he knew if police found him with it, they would take it away. (Which, evidently, they did. Is this standard police protocol?)
Asked why he resigned from the sheriff's office afterwards, he said, "I never did anything bad at the county. I had already wanted to leave." (In Hidalgo County, you vest at age 30.)He's been a licensed peace officer since 1999. He briefly worked for the La Joya (recognized eight years running as the Cleanest City Government In The World) Police Department that year, then as a patrol officer the past three years at the Hidalgo County (recognized nine years running as the Cleanest County Government In The World) Sheriff's Department, where he took multiple courses through its academy on topics such as identity theft, special investigative topics, cultural diversity, and asset forfeiture, according to records on file at the Texas Commission On Law Enforcement Officer Standards And Education. (Apparently TCLOSE doesn't offer a course on Successful Interstate Cash Hauling Strategies.)
There were no records of any disciplinary action taken against Sanchez. (Natch.)
Sheriff Lupe Treviño said his department is cooperating with Georgia authorities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Cooperating = Code for: might consider returning their calls.)"We are doing a lot about it, but only so much can be said," Treviño said. (I totally buy the part about not saying much. But put me down in the skeptical category on the "doing a lot about it" front.)
He said his office launched an "inquiry" into Sanchez's work history and friendships in the department. But apart from a brother who is a detention officer, he said, not many deputies knew Sanchez well. (And by "didn't know well," they mean they never knew he worked there.)"He didn't socialize with many people in the department," he said. "I guess he was really too preoccupied with his other endeavors, or the other whatever you want to call them." (As a rather curious news consumer, I would REALLY like to know what those "other endeavors" are.)
Peter John Skandalakis, the district attorney for five counties south and west of Atlanta, including Carroll County, where Sanchez was pulled over on Interstate 20, said by phone that the highway is a common route for eastbound shipments of marijuana and the type of methamphetamine known as "Mexican ice." (I bet he is one vindictive prosecutor. He had to attend elementary school as the son of Mrs. Skandalkis. Just think of the opportunities that presented the playground bullies.)Other South Texans arrested in Carroll County in recent months are Anselmo Contreras, 24, and Lucio Medina, 41, of Harlingen. They were arrested last August after deputies found a secret compartment in the tractor-trailer rig they were driving — but no currency or narcotics, according to the incident report. (So the cops in Georgia arrest you for driving without drugs and money, but set you free if you have a million in cash in a duffle bag you found in a Hooters dumpster. More context, please.)
Told of Sanchez's account of where he found the money, Skandalakis said, "I don't believe that for a second. It's too implausible." (Seems like Skandalakis is still so traumatized over his last name that he can't suspend belief -- if only for a moment.)Now that he's no longer a deputy, Sanchez said he might start selling used cars again, buying the vehicles from afar and bringing them to the border, which is a common business here. He said he planned to continue selling construction equipment and was optimistic that his landscaping business, San Co, would heat up when good weather returned. (This paragraph is WAY more disjointed than anything Billy Clyde has ever written. And that's saying a LOT. Are Mexican nationals now stealing cars and bringing them to McAllen? And Sanchez thinks stealing Bobcats in Atlanta and selling them in Hidalgo County is a successful business strategy? And why does this newly retired millionaire look forward to clear skies and warmer weather for a prospective lawn-mowing business. No comprende.)
He called off the interview when his family, including young children, arrived in a new SUV, parking near the white pickup that had been searched in Georgia, and according to records, was bought with financing there. (Of all the questions I want answered here, the absolute LAST one is whether Mr. Sanchez got a 24-month note at 13 percent APR through GMAC.)
News Researcher Michael Knoop contributed to this report.