Hikki’s mom: high-stakes drug trafficker or poor business planner?

This is a fun story:

Junko Utada, the mother of once-awesome now-lame best-selling pop singer Hikaru Utada, was detained at JFK Airport back in March. She was spotted acting rather strangely (screaming into a telephone and appearing ill) prior to boarding a flight to Vegas.

When investigators searched her luggage, they discovered she was carrying over $400,000 in cash, two boxes of somebody else’s checks, and a lease agreement to a storage unit in Manhattan. She made up a weird story about donating her casino winnings to a foster home in Vegas, but the DEA agents decided that she was probably involved in drug smuggling, and so now the government has filed suit to have the money forfeited to the feds.

It’s a very weird situation, but it’s also not entirely clear why Hikki’s mom would be running drug money around. I’m skeptical, at least. Perhaps she just got caught in the midst of a poorly-planned tax avoidance scheme. Or maybe she just never got over her clueless Japanese tourist phase.

12 thoughts on “Hikki’s mom: high-stakes drug trafficker or poor business planner?”

  1. Apparently the drug dogs sniffed somerthing on the cash, but haven’t I seen the urban legend that all $100 notes have traces of coke on them, so no wonder a wodge of 4,000 of them would set Fido’s nose off.

    Sounds like perhaps she is in some sort of blackmail situation? Your tax avoidance one sounds feasible too – isn’t big mounds of cash how Japanese people usually fiddle the books? Going to Vegas would be a good way to launder it, for instance.

  2. Aren’t big mounts of cash how anyone avoids taxes? I find the drug thing unlikely, since carrying over $10,000 in cash into or out of the US is itself illegal.

  3. Ken: I recently read a case where the judge refused to allow traces of drugs on currency to be used as evidence that the currency was related to a drug transaction, for precisely that reason. So I suppose it isn’t just an urban legend.

    It sounds to me like there are some zealous prosecutors who just want to win SOMEthing from the case.

  4. Cocaine on hundred dollars bills? Considering that I literally cannot remember the last time I handled any US currency larger than a $20 (thanks to ATMs replacing withdrawals at the counter), it almost seems conceivable that anyone actually using benjamins these days probably is going to smear cocaine on it at some point.

  5. “. . . carrying over $10,000 in cash into or out of the US is itself illegal.”

    Not true. It’s illegal to do so without making a report to the customs authorities.

  6. Sorry, I forgot that clarification. But I think it’s pretty obvious that a: she didn’t declare it and b: anyone who actually DOES try and declare that much cash is going to be pulled aside for some serious questioning.

  7. She was on booked on a US domestic flight so she wasn’t required to make a currency declaration.

  8. Joe: I’ve no doubt there is some tax avoidance scheme at the root of all this and her story is clearly nonsense. By all accounts, the lady isn’t too bright and this clearly bears it out. I’m more interested in how this money was discovered – whether it was a standard security search or someone acting on suspicion or a tip-off.

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