Nearly $2 Million Found in Airport Suitcases
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Nearly $2 million cash was found in three suitcases at Los Angeles International Airport, one of which was blown open with a shotgun blast by police who believed it might hold a bomb, authorities said Friday.
Police and U.S. Customs agents sought a man, described as being in his mid- 20s and possibly of Turkish descent, who checked the bags at a Pan American World Airways counter and never came back to pick them up.
Investigators theorized it was probably drug money.
The man left the bags after changing the destination on his ticket from Istanbul, Turkey, to Zurich, Switzerland, shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday. Authorities said a Pan Am clerk became suspicious of the man and had the bags X-rayed.
The clerk believed the X rays indicated one of the bags contained wires and may have been booby-trapped, police and Customs agents said.
The bags were taken to a safe area, and a shotgun blast was used to blow open the bag believed to contain a bomb so that if it was booby-trapped, it would explode without harming anyone.
No explosives were found. But all three bags were ″filled to the brim″ with $20 and $100 bills, said Customs spokeswoman Maryanne Noonan.
The cash in the bags totaled $1.97 million, investigators said.
It was the third-largest amount of unreported cash ever seized at Los Angeles International Airport, Customs Regional Commissioner Quintin Villanueva said.
Police Sgt. Pat Turner said the man never retured to try to claim the bags or to take the flight on which he was ticketed.
″It appears to be drug money,″ police Lt. Dan Cooke said Friday. ″Otherwise, what possible explanation could there be for anyone leaving behind that much? We recover very expensive automobiles, ships, cash. That’s just overhead.″
Cooke said such money eventually would belong to the City of Los Angeles.
He said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probably would be investigating.
″Normally they would be, because of something of this magnitude,″ Cooke said. ″The matter will be investigated by our narcotics division, and obviously others will be terribly interested as well, like the DEA.″
It is a violation of federal law to move more than $10,000 in cash out of the country without reporting it to Customs. The penalty is a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.