Given that the cousin’s husband was known to exaggerate stories, Verceles was skeptical of the claim. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder. A second safe might explain how Ponzo and Pace, with few visible means of income, had managed to pay off their home in 10 years, and how Ponzo had afforded — what? — five trips to Utah after Pace took the kids.
Verceles lost sleep thinking about this safe and what it might contain. “My curiosity got me going crazy,” he says as we talk on the phone. So one day he borrowed a metal detector and used it to scan the bedroom. In a walk-in closet, he got a faint beep. He tore up the carpet and found a round disk made of plaster. On the disk itself was a piece of cloth. Verceles pulled at it, the disk lifted, and he saw the lid of a safe.
The lid had a combination lock on it. Guessing the combination could take years, so Verceles first took a jackhammer to it, and when that failed he brought over one of his blowtorches. Working meticulously, he finally got the lid off.
“Motherfucker,” he said, looking at the contents of the safe.
He found paperwork, documents, and a bag. Inside that bag were bundles and bundles of hundred-dollar bills. He also found 16 Canadian 1-ounce gold coins, 21 Liberty gold coins, and one Australian gold coin. On the Internet, it said that the gold was worth roughly $65,000.
At some point, Verceles then called over another man, whose identity he would not reveal to me. The two of them set in on counting the cash, which came to $102,000.
So what to do with the loot? Burying it outside seemed stupid, and he couldn’t put it back in the damaged safe. He wanted to keep the money for his friend, he tells me, so he brought over his gun locker, put everything in there, and locked it. After that, he felt better about the situation.
That is, he says on the phone, until last night, when a neighbor called him after he got off work to say that the FBI was at Ponzo’s place looking for him. He rushed home and, on the way, an FBI agent phoned his cell.
Listen to Paul Kix as he talks about his experiences researching Enrico Ponzo and reveals snippets of his interviews from his Idaho visit.