It’s now illegal to carry cash?

Is no one else concerned that it’s apparently now routine that police, finding an otherwise peaceable motorist in possession of a large sum of cash, simply take it?

Last Tuesday afternoon, Nye County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Pineau, while conducting a “drug patrol” on U.S. Highway 95 in Beatty, stopped a pickup truck for speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign. (For those who haven’t passed through the charming little speed trap with the estimable chicken soup, 115 miles north of Las Vegas, the rapid lowering of speed limits as you enter Beatty makes it no great challenge for a deputy to catch someone failing to reduce speed quickly enough.)

Although no narcotics were found, a dog “hit” on the vehicle, which courts have held provides sufficient cause to rip the thing apart. Deputies found more than $750,000 in cash in the hidden compartments in the truck.

So they let the driver go, keeping the truck and the cash.

Let’s not pretend to be naive. The fact that driver said she didn’t know the money was there and had no idea who it belonged to doesn’t make it too much of a stretch to conclude the woman — knowingly or not — was being used as a “mule” to transport illicit drug proceeds. That makes it a “good bust,” as police count such things — and the largest cash seizure in Nye County history, according to Sheriff Tony DeMeo, surpassing a similar $676,000 haul during a 2002 traffic stop in Tonopah.

It’s enough to make an honest prospector give up his pan, his pick, and his mule!

Deputy Pineau did his job effectively. No one was hurt, and no one need lose any sleep over the financial loss to some unnamed drug kingpin.

Nor are Nye County deputies the only ones “getting lucky.” Last year, police in Boulder City seized more than $500,000 stashed in the spare tire of a vehicle passing through the community.

Three observations may be in order:

1) If the drug dealers can write off these kinds of losses as mere incidental costs of doing business, the “War on Drugs” is lost.

2) While it’s nice for local taxpayers to get this kind of budgetary relief in funding local police agencies, there is a risk in growing accustomed to such “windfalls.” The risk is that so long as the money flows in, fewer and fewer questions may be asked.

3) What happens the next time a law-abiding citizen — especially if he or she has an Hispanic name — gets pulled over and says, “Yes, as it happens I’ve got $50,000 cash in the car. It’s mine — I earned it and saved it and I’m taking it to California to invest in a small business” or “to buy my son a classic Corvette for his wedding present” or “to bid at a collectors’ coin auction”?

The money will be seized, won’t it? The citizen (or his money, technically) will be presumed guilty, and the owner will be required to spend almost that sum on lawyers trying to get his cash back, won’t he?

It didn’t used to be illegal to travel around America carrying cash. Police seizing any large sums of cash they spotted used to be a phenomenon only of the corrupt Third World.

Is no one else concerned?

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