As investigators made their way through a suspected marijuana trafficker's fancy house nestled in a pricey Miami Lakes gated neighborhood, they tried their luck in the attic.
And it was there — past a statue of St. Lazarus and behind a wall — that detectives on Wednesday found a secret compartment holding a stash of orange five-gallon buckets.
There were 24 of them, the Miami Herald reported —
— and inside each were bundles of $100 bills in heat-sealed bags.
The total find? An estimated $24 million, believed to be the biggest cash seizure in Miami-Dade police history, the Herald reported.
Police arrested Luis Hernandez-Gonzalez on a host of charges, including money laundering, marijuana trafficking and possession of a firearm while committing a felony, the paper noted.
The 44-year-old runs the Blossom Experience, a successful supply business for indoor-gardening aficionados. But cops believe the legit outfit actually caters to Miami’s illegal marijuana grow-house industry, the Herald reported.
Salma Hernandez, the sister of Hernandez-Gonzalez, worked at the Blossom Experience and also was arrested and charged, the paper added.
The bond for Hernandez-Gonzalez was set at $4 million.
“For a man with $20 million in his walls, an elevated bond is clearly necessary,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Adam Korn said Wednesday, the Herald said.
Not so fast, said Frank Gaviria, the lawyer for Hernandez-Gonzalez: “My understanding is that he ran a very successful hydroponics supply store, which in of itself is lawful,” Gaviria told the Herald.
More from the Herald:
Hernandez-Gonzalez had lived in this mango-colored 5-bedroom, 2-story home for the past decade. He bought the lot and had the home built — investigators believe the secret attic compartment was added during construction.
Neighbors here described Hernandez-Gonzales and his family as nice, but largely guarded, rarely interacting with them. He initially denied there was any money in the house.
But inside the master-bedroom closet, Miami-Dade police detectives found heat-sealed bags of cash, each labeled “$150K.” Police also found numerous vials of steroids and a loaded Tec-9 pistol with an extended clip, according to the arrest report.
The tiny money room — about 6-feet-by-7 feet — was located on the second floor, down a hallway next to the bedroom of his two children. It could only accessed through the attic, through a trap door hidden by a layer of fiberglass insulation. The attic entrance was guarded by more figurines associated with the Santeria religion.
Removing the St. Lazarus from a wall alcove, detectives punched a hole in the hallway wall to remove the buckets. The discovery stunned even veteran narcotics detectives who are used to processing large amounts of money.
The buckets were loaded onto the back of a pickup truck and hauled to the Miami-Dade police department, where the bills were painstakingly entered into money-counting machines.
Miami-Dade police will likely now move to take ownership of the money through civil forfeiture laws, while the feds could seize the Miami Lakes home.
Read the full Miami Herald article here.