Jonna Booth's story changed soon after Rick Hilzendager, a special agent with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, entered the interview room late last Monday evening and began laying out the evidence border agents had gathered in the six hours of her detention.
In another room sat Robert Booth, her husband, who had just exercised his right to a lawyer.
This was after Hilzendager had advised the 54-year-old that he knew where the $73,000 in cash agents had found stashed in the couple's 1999 Coach Camper came from.
Like her husband, Jonna Booth, 48, had initially told investigators that the money, found hidden behind a wood panel in a cabinet in the camper's washroom, had been won gambling at a casino.
It was money the Agassiz couple had failed to claim upon their attempted entry at the Northgate, N.D. border crossing at about 4:30 p.m. that Monday. When initially asked, they said they were not carrying currency in excess of $10,000. According to U.S. court documents, Hilzendager told Booth that based upon the investigation, information gathered from her own journal and information gathered from her husband, that the money came from the sale of marijuana.
Her story quickly changed. Last Wednesday, the Booths made their second
appearance in U.S. District Court in North Dakota on charges related to the bulk smuggling of cash into the U.S., a crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250.
However, it is the tale that Jonna Booth suddenly decided to tell border agents that makes their arrest and detention-they both remain in custody-all the more intriguing and lends it the air of a TV drama.
According to the court documents, Jonna Booth told investigators that, due to "financial problems," she and her husband began transporting B.C. bud to Winnipeg early this year. "Jonna Booth stated that they have made approximately one trip a month since approximately January of 2013," the document reads. "Jonna Booth stated that the trips to transport the marijuana were primarily Robert Booth's deal. Robert Booth purposely tried to minimize Jonna Booth's involvement by providing her with few details." During the latest run, the pot was kept in two hockey bags stashed under the seats in the motor home, according to the documents. Jonna Booth told investigators that the bags had been dropped off in a ditch in Winnipeg where it was supposed to be picked up.
But when Robert was unable to get in touch with the person who was supposed to pick up the bags, they went back, got the bags and delivered them to an undisclosed house, the documents read.
Due to a poor weather forecast, they decided to drive through the U.S. instead of going through the Rockies.
During their first hearing last Tuesday, Jonna Booth told the presiding judge she did not fully understand the charge she was facing. Robert Booth said there had been no plans to sneak the money into the U.S. "We were just going home to British Columbia," he told the court.
© Copyright 2013