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$180,000 in stolen nickels recovered during drug bust



Published: Sat, February 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Detectives found 88 plants believed to be marijuana.

SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

MIAMI -- Police officers dug up some unusual backyard buried treasure Friday -- about 3 million stolen nickels that never made it to the Federal Reserve in New Orleans.

Miami-Dade police came across the nicked nickels, worth about $180,000, at a home in the Miami area. They were still in Federal Reserve bags, in a wooden box, covered with a thick plastic tarp and buried about four feet deep.

"We think most of them are there," said Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the FBI, which is investigating the theft. "There's probably going to be a few missing."

The nickel caper began Dec. 17 when truck driver Angel Ricardo Mendoza picked up the coins at the Federal Reserve facility in New Jersey.

Mendoza, who worked for a private trucking contractor, vanished with the 45,000 pounds of silvery loot. A few days later, the truck and trailer turned up at a Fort Pierce truck stop, but the bags of nickels had disappeared, along with Mendoza.

Breaking case

Friday morning, Miami-Dade police officers and DEA agents looking for a hydroponics lab at a home in the Miami area, stumbled upon a cooler and a bucket full of nickels.

"That's what made the little light go off," Orihuela said.

Scanning the backyard with metal detectors, investigators found the entire load of nickels.

Friday afternoon, Federal Reserve officials arrived to figure out how they were going to truck the coins out of there. Each of the 900 or so bags weighs about 50 pounds.

Detectives found 88 plants believed to be marijuana when they searched a smaller house on the property after they and their K-9 dogs found no drugs in the main house, police said.

Police detained a renter on the property in connection with the marijuana, Orihuela said, but he had not been arrested as of Friday afternoon. There was no sign of Mendoza, who is a suspect in the coin heist, however.




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