SPECIAL REPORT: Truckload of nickels, driver missing; FBI seeks information

| 12/22/2004

A truckload of nickels that was being shipped for the U.S. Mint has disappeared, law-enforcement officials said, and the search is on for the missing load.

A spokesman for the Mint confirmed that the nickels were missing. An FBI spokeswoman said the tractor-trailer - operated by Geller Transportation of Miami - was carrying 3.6 million nickels worth $180,000 contained in 900 bags each weighing 50 pounds.

The tractor-trailer picked up the 45,000-pound load in East Rutherford, NJ, bound for New Orleans. It was scheduled to arrive Monday, Dec. 20, in the Big Easy, but was last heard from that day as it passed through Florida's capital city, Tallahassee.

The rig was found at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22, at the Flying J Truck Stop in Fort Pierce, FL, Judy Orihuela, an FBI spokeswoman in Miami, told Land Line. The load was gone, and the driver was not with the vehicle.

Orihuela said the FBI would like to speak with the driver, Angel Ricardo Mendoza, 42. However, she indicated at this point he was not a suspect in the apparent theft.

"Nobody's heard from him, so we don't know if he's been a victim," she said.

Orihuela said it was her understanding that the Mint provides its own transportation for any currency or coinage above pennies and nickels.

Anyone who has information on Mendoza's whereabouts or information on the theft of the nickels is encouraged to call the Miami office of the FBI at (305) 944-9101.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor