The Carroll County Narcotics Task Force this week wil formally end the pursuit of $32,000 in cash seized last fall from a Union Bridge pizza shop owner, court records and attorneys in the case say.
The money, seized despite the advice of the state attorney general's office, was the largest single haul attempted by the task force and would have fattened its coffers four-fold.
"This would have gone right into the task force fund," Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, the drug unit's coordinator, said Friday. "It's not like we'd throw a big party."
The money is not going toward anybody's party, at least not now. According to records obtained by The Sun, the task force wrote a $32,000 check on April 2 to be deposited in an escrow account, under the control of the pizza shop owner's lawyer, until the Internal Revenue Service completes an investigation into the money.
L The story behind the cash bears resemblance to a soap opera.
Union Bridge pizza shop owner Angelo Monteleone contends his wife and her former lover stole $45,000 from him a couple of days before Christmas 1991 -- about half of the $90,000 in small bills he kept in a bedroom safe.
State police investigators alleged that Kristina Ann Monteleone and the lover, Matthew L. Conaway, engineered the theft, but a )) prosecutor dropped charges against them last year.
About the time the charges were being dropped, the task force moved in and filed a forfeiture claim to get the money. According to court records, $32,000 of the missing money was found on Mr. Conaway.
Authorities said he spent the rest of the $45,000.
The task force's interest was piqued when Mr. Conaway said that Mrs. Monteleone would sometimes give him money to buy cocaine.
Mr. Walker seized the cash and filed for forfeiture after a police dog smelled drugs on the money -- despite an attorney general's opinion that the dog's reaction was insufficient evidence to win a court case, because the money might have become tainted with drugs while it was in Mr. Conaway's possession for several days.
Normally, stolen money that had been recovered would have been returned to the owner -- in this case Mr. Monteleone.
Enter the IRS. According to court records, the FBI and the IRS became interested in how Mr. Monteleone could amass so much cash, especially in light of his income tax filings.
"My client is an immigrant who perhaps didn't have the full understanding of the implications of American tax laws," Ransom J. Davis, Mr. Monteleone's attorney, said Friday.
Mr. Monteleone's attorney missed the deadline to file an answer to the drug task force's forfeiture claim.
Mr. Monteleone wanted the money back, and the FBI and IRS had an interest in it. But Mr. Walker persuaded a judge to sign a default order in October to turn the cash over to the drug task force.
"There simply is no basis for the forfeiture of Mr. Monteleone's money," Mr. Davis said in an Oct. 30, 1992 letter to Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold, who had signed the default order.
"In truth, I am convinced that the present gambit by the state's attorney's office, seeking to obtain a forfeiture by default, has been prompted by a recognition of weakness of the state's case."
The default order eventually was rescinded, and the attorneys spent nearly four months hammering out the settlement that put the money in escrow. Both Mr. Walker and Mr. Davis said Friday the forfeiture suit would be dismissed this week.
"From the beginning, we were trying to get the federal people to take the money, because it was ill-gotten money," Mr. Walker said.
He added: "We honestly felt we had a valid drug forfeiture suit, although it probably wasn't the strongest."
"There was never any reason," Mr. Davis countered. "This was not a viable forfeiture."
Had the task force been successful in keeping the money, the group's treasury would have been substantially larger than it is today. In records obtained by The Sun, the task force's drug proceeds fund had a balance of less than $7,000 last week.
Most of that money came from a dozen buy-back agreements -- in which drug suspects can avoid forfeiting their property by paying the task force a fee.
As for the IRS -- which would neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating the case -- its interests are protected in the escrow fund. According to court records, the fund "would be available to be applied against any future tax liability of Mr. Monteleone."
Mr. Monteleone and his wife have reconciled and are running the pizza shop successfully, Mr. Davis said. They and their two small children "are really doing well, especially with the support of the community," the attorney said.