Ralph Moreno, an unemployed ex-con on food stamps, is fighting with the federal government to keep $76,000 in cash seized at his west Phoenix home by FBI agents.
State records show that Moreno and his wife, Wilma, of Phoenix, haven't earned wages for at least 10 years, and that Moreno received $250 a month in disability, food stamps and state healthcare payments.
Police believe Moreno is tied to the Arizona Mexican Mafia and a multi-state methamphetamine-smuggling ring. The cash was seized at his home last August in a raid that followed a weeks-long surveillance operation. Moreno was charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and is scheduled for trial on July 10.
The FBI, through a confidential informant, got a tip that Ramon Borquez, a.k.a. "Bugsy," an Arizona Mexican Mafia member incarcerated in a federal prison in Victorville, California, was coordinating drug sales through his associates, court records state.
Bugsy allegedly had Joel "Koopi" Kupihea fly to Phoenix from Hawaii with the intent of moving product to the island state, records show. Bugsy then had his brother, Javier Borquez, contact Richard Flores Sr, "Scotty," a "known dealer" of meth, records state.
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The FBI informant went with Bugsy's brother on one $10,000 deal as agents watched from afar, and a few weeks later, the informant reportedly helped set up another deal. This time, the price was $11,200 for a pound of meth. During the second transaction, agents watched as a "Scotty" went to Moreno's home on Coronado Road and exit with a shoebox-sized container. "Scotty" later delivered the package to the informant, who turned it over to FBI agents. The FBI later determined the package contained 550 grams of meth.
Agents raided Moreno's home on August 22, 2011 and found about $76,000, but no meth. They did, however, find a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle and a .40-caliber handgun. The weapons and money were seized.
Earlier this year, Moreno -- who's been convicted of several marijuana offenses -- and his family put in a claim with the federal government to get the money back. They claim it was part of a "pool" of savings that family members kept at their home, (because they don't trust banks), and that a big chunk of it came from an insurance settlement after a car accident involving Wilma Moreno.
The government declares that the money is tied to drug sales and that the Morenos shouldn't get it back.