By Mark H. Reddig
Law-enforcement officials finally found a 45,000-pound load of nickels from the U.S. Mint that went missing Dec. 20, an FBI spokeswoman told Land Line.
The FBI’s Judy Orihuela said that Miami-Dade police found the coins early in the morning of Feb. 4 during an unrelated raid.
The local police “were out looking for a grow lab, a hydroponics lab” – for marijuana – “and when they were out here, they found a cooler with nickels in it.”
The nickels were in a plastic bag in the cooler. But they set off a light bulb for the police, who called for additional help. Soon, they found the remainder of the load of slot-machine fuel buried on the property where the pot-growing operation was located.
Orihuela was not sure how deep the nickels were buried.
The site is located in the Redlands, “way down south” in the Miami metro area.
Several people were detained, but no one had been arrested as of press time, Orihuela said.
Still missing is Angel Ricardo Mendoza, 42, of Hialeah, FL, the trucker who was driving the nickel truck when it went missing. The FBI “is pretty sure” that he has left the country.
Orihuela said officials found most of the nickels. But, she said, it looks like they might have spent some of them, or “converted” them, maybe into larger – and less weighty – denominations.
Mendoza, his 2001 white Freightliner, 2005 Utility trailer and the nickels all went missing Dec. 20. The tractor-trailer picked up the 45,000-pound load in East Rutherford, NJ, and was scheduled to arrive Dec. 20 in New Orleans. But Mendoza and his rig disappeared that day as they passed through Tallahassee, FL.
The rig was found at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22, at the Flying J Truck Stop in Fort Pierce, FL, Orihuela told Land Line. The load was gone, and the driver was not with the vehicle.
The rig – operated by Geller Transportation of Miami – was carrying 3.6 million nickels worth $180,000 contained in 900 bags each weighing 50 pounds.
Orihuela said investigators were still not sure why the driver went to Florida with the load.