"If they saw it on James Bond," says Miller, "they did it." Five times they drove past the road to the lot before taking the turn. After digging up approximately $2.2 million in counterfeit money, they drove to an office-building parking lot. Melancon left and was soon arrested. Whitfield stayed, tossing two plastic garbage bags with the ersatz loot into a Dempster Dumpster.
Whitfield waited for the purchaser—an undercover agent—to show up, which he did at about 9 p.m. Whitfield thought he could sell about $2 million, but the buyer said he only wanted $1.2 million at 20 cents on the dollar: $240,000. The agent also said he didn't have the cash with him. He then departed, supposedly to get the money, and shortly thereafter Whitfield was taken into custody.
Later that night approximately 10 Secret Service agents and others, including Miller, went to the snake-infested Jones Creek Road lot to dig for more money. They had only two shovels, and they dug for several hours. Finally, Secret Service Agent Mike James called out, "I think I've got something here." He dug down a foot and found two large red Igloo coolers, now empty but believed to have contained the money Melancon and Whitfield had picked up.
About 10:30 a.m. on July 9 Cannon stopped by the lot to show it to a business associate. Four of the lawmen had remained on the property through the night. Cannon asked them what was going on, was told they had a search warrant, and left. Cannon, who owns several thoroughbreds, then drove to Jefferson Downs racetrack near New Orleans.
In midafternoon that day one of Cannon's daughters knocked on Buck Kleinpeter's door and said, "Some men from the Secret Service want to arrest my daddy." Says Kleinpeter, "I knew the Secret Service deals with two things, protection of the President and counterfeiting, and I knew Billy hadn't been with the President." When he returned home at about 4 p.m., Cannon was arrested. He wanted to plead guilty right away, but Judge Frank J. Polozola told him to think over his decision.
Cannon immediately cooperated with the government, showing officials where an additional $2 million was buried in two large coolers in the ground next to his office. He drew a map of the area on the Jones Creek Road property where another $750,000 or so in counterfeit money was buried. Later, an agent returned and said, "Billy, I'm a little embarrassed, but even with your map we can't find the money." Replied Cannon with a laugh, "If you can't find the money with a map, maybe I should withdraw my plea." The money was quickly found, the trouble with the map having been that Cannon had omitted a crucial tree from the drawing. Miller says that without Cannon's assistance the only way the buried counterfeit money would ever have been found would have been to "plow up Baton Rouge."
In rapid order, Cannon fingered Stiglets, who pleaded guilty on Friday to two counterfeiting charges, as the printer and Glasscock as a prime purchaser and accomplice. Cannon will testify for the government in related cases and will be sentenced himself later. In return, he'll almost certainly not receive the maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Nobody knows how much of Cannon's funny money got into circulation. The best guess: $100,000 to $200,000.
Several months ago a worried Cannon told Stiglets, "Somebody has mentioned my name to the Secret Service. I think I'm in trouble." Said Stiglets, "You better burn the money." Later, Cannon told Stiglets, "I guess they forgot about me." But Stiglets knew better: "If they ever get your name," he said, "they never forget you. If you did it, you're gone."
Cannon, on advice of his lawyer, won't talk about the case. Meanwhile, Cannon's friends remain at a loss to explain why he committed the crime. "Maybe it's a chemical imbalance," says Oggero. "Maybe somebody was holding a gun to the head of a family member," says Purvis. Friends don't feel, however, that Cannon was involved with drugs or gambling. "I just don't know," says Boots Garland, LSU's longtime track coach, "but I do know he's one of the best SOBs ever made." Termini stares a questioner hard in the eyes and says, "People who know Billy Cannon will never lose faith in him."