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Oroville finders get to keep drug money

From Staff Reports The Spokesman-Review

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers says an Oroville, Wash., couple did the right thing when they turned in $507,070 of drug money they found in a roadside ditch – and it was only right to let them keep it.

Rogers confirmed Thursday that he decided in April to scuttle the county’s appeal of a judge’s decision awarding the money to retired Border Patrol Agent Dan Gerth and his wife, Jane.

“My gut just told me it was the right thing to do,” Rogers said.

“I have no heartburn over it.”

He said the Gerths “are good people” who “did everything by the book,” and he hopes their good fortune will encourage others to go to authorities in similar situations.

Rogers said he honored the Gerths’ request not to announce they had received the cash along with some $10,000 in interest.

But a newspaper reporter recently asked what happened to the money, “and I’m not going to lie.”

The Gerths declined to comment Thursday.

The couple found the money in a backpack while hiking along U.S. Highway 97 about 16 miles south of the Canadian border in March 2004.

Sheriff’s deputies removed the cash, replaced the backpack and arrested a man who came for it.

David Lee Taber Jr. – who was charged with money laundering because no drugs were found – joined the Gerths and the Sheriff’s Office in filing a claim for the cash. Taber dropped his claim after a judge dismissed the charge against him.

Another judge ruled in January this year that, although the money came from illegal drug trafficking, the Sheriff’s Office couldn’t have it under a law that allows police to use drug money to combat drug dealers.

Visiting Chelan County Superior Court Judge T.W. “Chip” Small said Washington’s found-property law trumps the drug-forfeiture law.

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