Inside a Federal Express warehouse at Los Angeles International Airport last October, a security employee became suspicious of a George Foreman Grill package shipped overnight from a Bismark, North Dakota P.O. box with an intended destination at a Newport Beach residence.
Several factors attracted attention to the package, including that the cost of delivery far exceed the what should have been the approximate weight of the grill, curious handwritten labeling and a cash payment.
Arriving Department of Homeland Security agents opened the box and found $30,000 vacuum-sealed in bundled, mylar packaging stuffed around the grill, and on the way to the Newport Beach home of Randy Gagnier and his wife Amy, who own a Costa Mesa business, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report.
The Gagniers already had been under intense law enforcement surveillance before the Federal Express delivery, in part, because their Nissan pickup truck crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at least 12 times during 2013 and 2014.
More precisely, agents claim in court filings that they observed the couple loading and unloading Duffle bags from vehicles, and meeting at a Hyatt hotel bar in Newport Beach to discuss pot smuggling with Jeran Thomson, a North Dakota resident.
According to court records, raids on the Gagnier's home recovered $405,000 from a master bedroom closet as well as 544 pounds of marijuana on the flatbed of a truck used by Ka Seiuli, one of the couple's alleged trafficking partners.
This month, asset-forfeiture lawyers at the Department of Justice filed a request inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse to give the $435,000 to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Though no hearing has been scheduled, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney will decide if the cash bundles are the proceeds of illegal narcotics trafficking, a determination that would mean federal officials can assume permanent control of the money.
There is no indication in the court files that the Gagniers or their alleged partners are in custody.
According to law enforcement records, Randy Gagnier's criminal history includes a 1991 federal conviction for a conspiracy to distribute 50 kilograms of marijuana, a case that resulted in a 65-month prison sentence.