A Bisbee man charged with state crimes for allegedly participating in a money laundering scheme earlier this year involving checks stolen from a Sierra Vista auto dealership remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service after 11 packages of heroin were found in the car he was driving from Mexico into the United States last month.
Benjamin Conrow was indicted in March for one count each of forgery and money laundering for allegedly cashing a $656.49 customer refund check issued to someone else by Lawley Automotive Group. He appeared in Cochise County Superior Court on June 22 for a pretrial conference and was ordered back to court July 20 to discuss the setting of a trial date.
But on June 29, Conrow was taken into custody by federal authorities entering the Douglas Port of Entry (POE) after a canine trained in the odor detection of illegal alerted to the underside of a 2010 Jeep Liberty’s rear bumper and rear undercarriage. Conrow, 30, was the vehicle’s sole occupant.
“The rear bumper of the vehicle was removed where an after-market concealed compartment was located,” according to the criminal complaint authorized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Inside the compartment was 11 packages wrapped in carbon paper and brown tape. The packages were tied together with rope to form a chain.”
The packages later tested positive for white and brown heroin with a combined weight of 6 kilograms, or more than 13 pounds.
The criminal complaint further notes Conrow participated in a post-Miranda interview during which he purportedly admitted transporting various illegal drugs across the border to Phoenix eight times.
“On all incidents he would drive the vehicle to Phoenix where he would personally remove the illegal narcotics from the vehicle using a rachet,” the complaint states. “A rachet set was found inside the vehicle Conrow was driving.”
The complaint also notes Conrow said he was typically paid $800 to $1,200 per trip.
Conrow has been held by the U.S. Marshals Service since his arrest. He is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate judge July 17 for a decision on whether that detention will continue until trial this fall.
In the Cochise County case, Sierra Vista Police Department detectives opened an investigation in February upon learning that dozens of customer refund checks were missing from one of the Lawley Automotive offices. Gloria Burton, a title clerk for the company, was arrested along with her son Charles in late February in connection to the theft of the checks.
Detectives discovered some of the stolen checks had been cashed, including one Conrow is alleged to have presented at the Food City in Sierra Vista after receiving it from Charles Burton as payment for drugs. Conrow is not suspected of participating in the check theft itself.
As of Monday, there is nothing in the case file as to whether the prosecutor for the Cochise County Attorney’s Office intends to seek revocation of Conrow’s pretrial release on the state charges.