BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A jury must decide whether $421,090 plastic-wrapped bills found in twin suitcases in the trunk of a convict’s car is drug trafficking money, or a donation from a philanthropic strip-club owner to disaster victims, or perhaps the unexplained earnings of a man named Primo, a federal judge ruled.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents uncovered the black suitcases last summer in a car trunk belonging to Michael Morales, a man with a lengthy criminal record for minor offenses. Agents said they tailed Morales when they saw him put the suitcases in a car and drive off. They stopped him for having illegally tinted windows.
After spotting a marijuana joint as they approached the car, the agents said they ordered Morales out and that he consented to a search. Agents opened the suitcases to find $421,090 wrapped in rubber bands and plastic bags.
The DEA agents said Morales gave them a wildly implausibly explanation for the money.
Morales allegedly insisted that he borrowed the car from his brother, whose father-in-law, Charles, owned several strip clubs in New York and often traveled to give money to disaster victims.
Skeptical, authorities filed a forfeiture action in Brooklyn federal court on Jan. 1, and Morales filed his claim to the money on April Fools’ Day.
In his affidavit, Morales said he never gave the alibi about the philanthropic strip-club owner. The money actually came from “Primo,” he claimed. Morales admitted he had no evidence to corroborate his claim, but said he agreed to move Primo’s money in exchange for $25,000.
Though Morales said he had no more information about Primo, including a real name, he assured the court that Primo would be able explain the facts supporting his claim.
Morales also denied consenting to the search and insisted that the authorities opened the trunk by pushing buttons on his key chain while he was handcuffed. He also denies that the car windows were tinted.
Morales did admit to being arrested four times, on various charges of possession of stolen property and possession of a controlled substance. Twice, he accepted guilty pleas for disorderly conduct. He has two open cases, and confessed that he did not file federal or state income tax returns between 2005 and 2010.
In late June, federal authorities filed a motion to toss Morales’ claim, suggesting it “did not pass the laugh test.”
In a 15-page order on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson wrote that a jury will have to test it out, in a trial slated for Oct. 11.