VALDOSTA — Lowndes County Sheriff's Office seized $508,170 in cash from two Columbian men Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 75.
Sheriff Ashley Paulk said the men have not officially been charged with anything. The case is being investigated as what he called "a bulk currency investigation."
The men, who are Colombian citizens, were heading southbound on I-75 about 6 p.m. in a rental car when deputies pulled them over for erratic driving, Paulk said.
He said the two men were acting nervous when the deputies spoke with them. The deputies had a K-9 unit that alerted the deputies there was contraband in the vehicle, he said.
Paulk said drug money usually has trace amounts of drugs on the money, which alerted the K-9.
The money was being held in multiple duffle bags inside the vehicle, he said. When the deputies opened the bags they found 54 total bundles of money.
The bundles were separated into 37 small bundles consisting of 20 and 100 dollar bills and 17 large bundles with the number 20 written in black on the bundle.
Paulk said they assumed the 20 meant each bundle contained $20,000.
On Wednesday morning, the sheriff's office packed the bundles up and took them to a local bank to be counted and stored while the investigation takes place.
Paulk said that if the investigation determines the money was obtained illegally, the department will seize the money and spent at the department.
"Then it will be used to buy equipment and things like that," Paulk said.
It is not illegal to carry any amount of money, but it is legal for law enforcement to seize money.
It is the practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows a person’s property including cash, vehicles, jewelry, guns, home, etc., to be seized without ever having to charge an individual with a crime.
During Paulk's first terms as sheriff from 1993-2009, he said his office seized millions of dollars in drug funds flowing through I-75.
"We had this type of interdiction back in the 90s, and these guys have been trained in that," Paulk said. "They just keep getting better and better. They have a lot of training and intelligence they use nationwide. They're only going to get better."
Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256