Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, March 20, 2023 @ 2:16 p.m.

DNSO Seized $375,000 in a Single Stop Last Month; Sheriff Says Cash Was Used Allegedly For Drug Smuggling

Deputies Dustin McQuillan and Kenny Fahndrich and K9 Zuko pose with the $375,000 they seized during a traffic stop last month. | Photo courtesy of Garrett Scott

Del Norte County Sheriff’s deputies seized about $375,000 during a traffic stop just south of the Washington Boulevard overpass on U.S. 101 last month.

Del Norte County Sheriff Garrett Scott said as far as he knows it’s the largest cash seizure in his office’s history.

Deputy Dustin McQuillan initiated the traffic stop at about 11:53 a.m. Feb. 18 when he noticed gray Nissan Rogue with Arizona license plates traveling well below the speed limit and “acting real suspiciously,” Scott told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday.

The stop also netted the department a small "personal-use" amount of cocaine, and its K9, Zuko, alerted to the smell of narcotics on the cash, Scott said.

The driver, 35-year-old Quiraiat Jimenez, was booked into the Del Norte County Jail on suspicion of possessing money over $100,000 for unlawful narcotics sales, according to Scott.

Jimenez made bail after a few days. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, but no charges have been filed yet, District Attorney Katie Micks said.

According to the sheriff, during the stop the suspect gave conflicting answers, initially telling McQuillan that he was traveling to Oregon to meet a girl and then telling him he was coming from Oregon, the sheriff said. Ultimately, the suspect said he was traveling from Blodgett, Oregon to Santa Rosa and then Los Angeles, Scott told the Outpost.

According to the sheriff, Jimenez said the car he was driving -- a gray Nissan Rogue -- belonged to a friend, though his deputies determined it was a rental.

During the stop, McQuillan noticed some odd odors coming from the vehicle and requested a K9 unit and backup. At that point, according to the sheriff, Jimenez gave the deputy permission to search his vehicle.

“They asked him if he was up to illegal activity and he admitted that he had quite a bit of money in his possession,” Scott said, adding that the cocaine was found on the passenger side of the car. “They checked the trunk area of the vehicle and noticed a black suitcase and a bag. The deputy felt the bag and he could feel the bricks (of cash) inside the bag.”

Those bricks were stashed underneath some clothing, Scott said. After doing further searching and questioning the suspect, Scott said, his deputies determined the cash was allegedly used for narcotics smuggling.

“The dog did alert that there was an odor of narcotics in that trunk area and on that cash,” Scott said.

Deputies seized $375,000 in suspected "drug smuggling money" during a traffic stop last month. | Photo courtesy of Garrett Scott

Deputies arrested Jimenez and towed the vehicle. They also brought the cash back to the office and worked with the auditor-controller’s office to count the money, Scott said.

“There’s a procedure for counting that money and verifying everything through the auditor (Clinton Schaad),” Scott said. “The auditor would then put that money into an account. It is evidentiary.”

According to County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair, the county is required to publish a public notice in the county newspaper of record, the Triplicate, once a week for three weeks. The first publication occurred Friday.

Once the final notice is published, potential owners have 30 days to submit a claim stating that the cash belongs to them. They will then appear in court for a hearing to determine if their claim for that $375,000 is valid, Campbell-Blair said.

Jimenez also has a right to submit a claim for that cash, county counsel said.

“We sent him a claim form. I don’t know if he’ll file a claim,” Campbell-Blair said of Jimenez. “IF somebody comes forward and claims it, they’ll have to show some kind of proof that they own it and then it’ll be the county’s burden to prove that it was connected to drug sales. The county has to say, ‘here’s why these bricks of cash wrapped in tape were the proceeds of illegal drug sales.”

If no one comes forward to claim that money, it will get divided up. According to Campbell-Blair, 25 percent will go to the State of California and the rest would go to the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Scott, there is an asset forfeiture account in the DNSO’s budget that’s used for drug enforcement.

“We’re all aware that drug smuggling and narcotics being delivered to communities is rampant,” Scott said. “Even with such short staffing, we’re doing what we can to go after the bigger fish, so to speak.”


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