Tucumcari police chief: Officer followed protocol in alleged cash theft

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

A lawsuit filed in Santa Fe claims Tucumcari police stole $47,000 from two Kansas residents during a May 2 traffic stop.

Tucumcari police records tell a far different story, claiming $53,140 was seized and handed over to federal officials as part of an investigation related to a possible illegal drug transaction.

Tucumcari Police Cpl. Dennis Garcia followed protocol during a May 2 traffic stop in which $53,140 was seized from a Kansas man, according to city officials.

“Cpl. Garcia followed the department’s procedures and policies in the seizure of the cash,” Chief of Police Jason Braziel said.

According to the incident report from the traffic stop:

• Garcia was in a marked patrol car in full regulatory uniform running stationary radar on U.S. Highway 54 when he observed a 2008 Chevy Impala speeding. The vehicle was traveling at 55 mph, 10 miles over the limit. Garcia conducted a traffic stop at the corner of East Tucumcari Boulevard and U.S. Highway 54.

• Garcia made contact with the driver later identified as Carlos Manuel Portillo, 27, of Liberal, Kan. Portillo was traveling with a female passenger identified as Mayra Saenz, of El Paso, Texas.

• Patrolman Robert Vargas joined the traffic stop to translate for Portillo and Saenz, who spoke little English.

• Portillo told Garcia he was traveling from Kansas to El Paso, Texas, to take his cousin (Saenz) home, according to the documents. Saenz said she had ridden the bus from El Paso to Kansas where she had stayed for three days.

• New Mexico Motor Transportation Division Officer David Chavez joined Garcia and Vargas at the traffic stop.

• Garcia asked Portillo if he were hauling narcotics or had any large amounts of cash over $10,000 in the vehicle. Portillo said no and gave Garcia consent to search the vehicle with a narcotic-sniffing dog. The dog alerted to the trunk.

• While searching the interior of the vehicle, Chavez found several bundles of gray duct tape with visible U.S. currency showing at the end.

• Garcia asked Portillo if he knew about the money in the console. He said he had about $57,000, which he planned to use to purchase farm equipment.

• When asked, Portillo said he was employed at National Beef in Liberal, Kan., but also works on his farm in Mexico.

• Garcia contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration and explained the situation, and was told to see if Portillo would sign a disclaimer on the currency, and to advise him that the vehicle and cash would be seized if he declined.

Portillo did not want to sign a disclaimer and said he did not disclose the money out of fear he’d be arrested.

Garcia advised Portillo the car and cash was being seized and he would have to provide five years of tax returns. Portillo told Garcia he could prove where he got the money and had it in the console because he did not feel he had to hide it.

• Portillo and Saenz were taken to the Microtel Inn and an inventory of the vehicle was taken before the vehicle was towed.

• Garcia removed the cash, photographed and logged it into evidence at the Tucumcari Police Department.

The following morning, Braziel said, Garcia and Evidence Custodian Lorenzo Emilio took the cash to Wells Fargo Bank, where it was converted into a cashier’s check for $53,140 to the U.S. Marshals Service.

“We do have in our custody $53,140 seized by the Tucumcari PD,” said USMS Public Affairs representative Steve Blando.