Testimony may have been cut short but the case remains big for an Illinois motorist found concealing nearly $500,000 believed to have come from a Mexican cartel.
It was back in late summer when agents with a district drug task force found the stashed cash hidden away in a car driven by 51-year-old David Ayala.
The traffic stop came at a construction site in northern Garvin County as Ayala was driving southbound on Interstate 35.
More recently Ayala’s preliminary hearing was waived after the two agents took the stand to offer testimony on their discovery of finding the money in a concealed compartment inside the vehicle.
One big part of the case is Ayala is accused of violating the Oklahoma Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, which is better known as RICO.
Leading the prosecution is Corey Miner, who is an assistant district attorney in Garvin County. He says the facts clearly show this is a RICO case.
“The purpose of the RICO statute is to target organized criminal activity, which this clearly is,” Miner tells the PV Democrat.
“This not a run-of-the-mill drug possession case. This guy is not a mule. A mule drives from point A to point B. If they’re caught they have nothing to tell.
“This guy had one of his cartel friends deliver three separate loads of currency. He touched the money, packaged the money and the money even had traces of cocaine on it.
“That leads agents to believe he’s a mid-level manager.”
When stopped in Garvin County on Aug. 27 for following too closely in a construction zone Ayala was alone in a Volkswagon Passat.
He claimed to be coming from Illinois on a trip to visit his mother. He also denied having any illegal drugs or large amounts of U.S. currency in the car.
According to Miner, another big part of the case is the two agents found a false compartment hidden in the vehicle, which at the time held just over $464,000 in cash.
That fact ups the case a notch or two, the prosecutor said.
“The agents found a most elaborate and complex trap that was lead-lined and went from under the dash to the back seat,” he said, adding that’s where 47 bundles of cash were found.
“It’s 1,800 miles from Chicago to Durango, Mexico, and this was his second trip in 11 days.
“What turned agents on to him was a single tool mark under the plastic edge of a console. It’s amazing what they guys can do.”
Although released on the day of the traffic stop, Ayala was later arrested in the Chicago area and returned to Pauls Valley to face the RICO and drug-related criminal charges filed against him.
During the recent hearing in a Garvin County District courtroom, Ayala, shackled and dressing in an orange inmate suit, told a judge he understand the decision to waive the remainder of the proceeding even though he not taken his medication for depression and anxiety since his arrest.
“I’ve seen no signs or symptoms that he is unable to understand what he’s doing,” said Pauls Valley defense attorney Billy Vandever.
Ayala’s next court hearing is an arraignment scheduled for early December. Unless a plea agreement is reached a jury trial date is expected to be set at that time.