By Stephanie R. Jones
On Tuesday morning Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason stood behind a table in his office topped with more than $1 million in allegedly illicit cash confiscated during a traffic stop Monday by some of his deputies.
It was the largest amount of money ever seized in Hinds County, according to the sheriff.
“This is history,” said Mason, who has been on the job less than a month. “This is a new sheriff’s department. We’re going to have aggressive law enforcement.”
During the news conference Mason revealed details of the bust. He suspects the money – $1,068,860 – is related to the drug trade.
A deputy patrolling I-20 between Clinton and Bolton spotted a vehicle headed westbound being driven erratically with its three occupants looking at him. He pulled the car over. Upon questioning, Mason said the occupants’ stories didn’t add up and the deputy called for backup, which included the canine unit. Deputies asked to search the car and the occupants agreed and were cooperative.
Mason said none of the windows in the car would open and the dogs hit on all four doors. The money was packed in the doors. No drugs were found, but the dogs also smelled drug residue, which is being tested, he said.
The three men in the car are being detained and questioned, though no charges have yet been filed.
“We are cooperating with federal agencies” on the case, said Mason, who added “you don’t buy M&Ms with that kind of money.” He said those detained are suspected to be part of a larger conspiracy. “Any time you have money like this it is some kind of conspiracy.”
The men were in a rented car that had departed from Florida and Mason said the rental agreement indicated they were headed to Las Vegas. He did not release the names of those being detained or any information about them because the case is being worked along with other agencies, which he also declined to name.
Mason applauded the deputy who made the initial stop for his observance and the Canine and Interdiction teams that worked the bust. “They are highly trained out of state,” Mason said.
The sheriff said the bounty is being heavily guarded and he didn’t get much sleep Monday night after standing in front of so much money. “I don’t believe it. It’s hard to believe.”
He said deputies were surprised at the amount of cash they got from the doors.
“They kept pulling out money and pulling out money,” he said with amazement. He added that at 9:30 Monday night deputies were still counting the money.
The money will be deposited into a bank temporarily. After procedures are followed, it will be transferred into the department’s general fund, Mason said.
The windfall will be used to fund equipment, to buy better cars and body cams, “to stay on top of things we need to stay on top of,” he said. “The crooks go farther than what we do so we have to keep up with them.”
Mason said he hopes the seizure shows county officials that the sheriff’s department needs more manpower and more equipment and that “I’m backing my people.”
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 454-0372.