Catherine Wilson, AP, Feb. 7
MIAMI — A plot to cash in 45,000 pounds of stolen nickels fell apart when a grocery store reported an unusually large deposit in one of its coin machines and a tip came in about bags of buried money, according to court documents.
Four men charged in the theft of the Federal Reserve shipment made an initial court appearance Monday, as the FBI searched for 896,000 missing nickels, or $44,800. A total of $135,200 was found buried behind a stable, and one of the men admitted cashing in $4,000, officials said. Two other men are still on the run.
The FBI said Ricardo Mendoza was driving the money truck for a contractor that had been hired by the Federal Reserve to transport 3.8 million nickels from a bank in New Jersey to a branch in New Orleans.
The truck was found empty in Florida in late December, a day after it was scheduled to arrive in Louisiana.
After the truck was discovered, the FBI alerted a company that puts coin machines in supermarkets to watch for large nickel deposits. A store in Miami called police on Jan. 15 to report a deposit by Juan Brito, who said he had been saving nickels for nearly a year, according to an FBI affidavit.
The group “decided to bury the nickels to avoid being caught” after Brito’s chat with police, the affidavit said. Police then received a tip about the nickels that led them to the house where some of them were buried.
Federal authorities said they believe Mendoza has fled to Mexico. Diosdado Cabrera, the owner of the home where the nickels were buried, also is missing.