Uncle Sam wants the $22.6 million found hidden in buckets last year inside the Miami Lakes home of a man accused of marijuana trafficking.
Federal agents this week took control of the record-setting money haul, which had been in the custody of the Miami-Dade Police Department since last June after narcotics detectives raided the home of Luis Hernandez-Gonzalez.
The seizure came as lawyers for Hernandez-Gonzalez planned Wednesday to ask a Miami-Dade civil court judge to return the money — which they insist was earned lawfully through a business selling indoor gardening equipment, not weed.
Miami-Dade police dropped an effort to claim the money in state court. The money will now be the subject of a forfeiture claim before a federal judge.
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The move didn’t sit well with Hernandez-Gonzalez’s defense attorneys. Last year, they grumbled when — on the eve of a criminal trial in state court — federal agents whisked Hernandez-Gonzalez out of a county jail to face trial in federal court for charges stemming from the same cache of money.
“A week before the state trial, the feds grabbed my client. Two days before the state hearing on the money, the feds grab the cash,” said Phil Reizenstein, one of his lawyers. “They are afraid to give us our day in state court.”
It was last June that Miami-Dade police raided the Miami Lakes home, finding the $22.6 million stuffed in 24 orange Home Depot buckets, all stashed in a secret compartment accessible only through the attic.
Narcotics detectives spent more than a day exhaustively counting the stash. The department released striking photos of the buckets hidden in the room and the immense pile of cash once the bills were removed from the buckets.
Hernandez-Gonzalez ran Blossom Experience, a North Miami-Dade store that sells fans, lights and other equipment for indoor gardening. Cops believe that the business, while legal, caters to marijuana traffickers growing weed in clandestine “grow house” labs inside homes.
Detectives raided his businesses and home after he was caught on a phone wiretap giving growing advice to Miami marijuana growers arrested by federal agents in Tennessee.
But his defense team long insisted that the money was legitimately earned from selling equipment. However, because he sells to legal growers in other states, no banks would take his cash, according to his lawyers.
Hernandez-Gonzalez was initially charged in Miami-Dade state court with marijuana trafficking and money laundering.
In October, a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of related money laundering and conducting illegal financial transactions. Hernandez-Gonzalez is now in federal custody, with trial set for April 17.