Canadian County Sheriff's deputies conducting a traffic stop along I-40 early this week made a huge drug bust when they discovered nearly 80 pounds of cocaine hidden inside a vehicle.
Routine Stop Leads to Drug Trafficking Charges
Sunday evening, deputies in El Reno stopped a vehicle transport tractor-trailer carrying five vehicles and asked the driver for permission to search the vehicles on the trailer. The driver allegedly consented to a search, and deputies discovered a hidden compartment in one of the vehicles the driver was transporting to Oklahoma City.
Inside the hidden compartment, deputies discovered 77 pounds of cocaine parceled into 35 two-pound bricks. Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West says that the I-40 cocaine bust, which has a street value of approximately $4.8 million, is the "largest seizure of cocaine in the metro area in recent years, if not ever."
It certainly tops Tulsa's record-breaking $4 million drug bust in which police seized a tractor-trailer truck carrying 42 pounds of heroin, 33 pounds of cocaine, and 27 pounds of crystal meth.
Using vehicle transport trailers is becoming a common way for drug traffickers to ship illegal substances across the country, and I-40 in Canadian County seems to be a common place for these vehicles to be stopped.
In early November, Canadian County Sheriff's deputies noticed a "suspicious" vehicle on a vehicle transport truck at a TA Travel Center near I-40 and Mustang Road. Deputies asked for permission to search the vehicle, and the driver gave consent. Inside the vehicle, deputies discovered a hidden compartment concealing 13 bags containing $1.1 million worth of methamphetamine. That vehicle was bound for Kansas.
In October 2103, deputies searched a vehicle on a car hauler parked at the same truck stop and discovered nearly 43 pounds of meth valued at $2.3 million.
Highway Drug Interdiction
Highway drug interdiction has become big business for law enforcement. You may remember when we discussed "Operation Desert Snow," and how a non-law enforcement group was conducting traffic stops and cash seizure in the name of training local law enforcement in highway drug interdiction. In fact, just as the NHTSA released a law enforcement guide to visual cues for detecting DUI, several agencies (often for-profit agencies) have released guides for detecting drug trafficking, or indicators for "drug courier profiling." Interdiction Weekly (yes, it's a thing) issued a guide entitled "10 Common Indicators for Highway Drug Interdiction," which gives 10 signs you may be a drug trafficker:
Drug Traffickers Get Clever
- Masking odors - Air fresheners, cologne or perfume, pipe tobacco, and other substances in the car or on the drug bundles themselves may be an attempt to mask the scent from drug dogs.
- Law enforcement stickers or slogans - Sometimes, a person will place stickers that appear to support law enforcement agencies on vehicles in an attempt to appear "officer-friendly."
- Religious paraphernalia - Just as law enforcement support stickers are intended to make a person look like a law-abiding citizen, religious symbols, figurines, and Bibles in a vehicle are sometimes an attempt to make the drug courier look like a really good "Christian" who would never run afoul of man's laws or God's.
- Rental car paperwork - Traffickers won't typically want to use cars that are in their own names, so often, a rental car may be used to transport drugs under an assumed name.
- Tools used to access hidden compartments - There are a number of tools which would reasonably be in the vehicle of your average person, but some specialized tools without apparent need for such an item could be an indication of a hidden compartment concealing drugs.
- Multiple cell phones - Drug traffickers or couriers may have several cell phones, including one from the seller, one from the buyer, and other middlemen along the way.
- Conflicting stories - If a driver can't keep his story straight, or if the driver and passenger's stories conflict, it could be an indication of drug trafficking.
- A driver who immediately gets out of the vehicle - Most drivers in a traffic stop know to remain seated behind the wheel and await instructions from law enforcement. If the driver gets out, it could be an indication that he or she is trying to distance himself and the law enforcement officer from the contraband.
- Driving under the speed limit - This is a "visual cue" for both DUI and drug trafficking. A driver trying so hard to avoid a traffic stop may have something to hide.
- Older model cars in great condition - The last thing a drug trafficker needs is for the transport vehicle to break down on the side of the road. Drug traffickers who use older model cars to transport drugs typically keep them immaculately maintained.
In order to conduct a legal traffic stop, a law enforcement agent must have reason to conduct the stop. Usually, this is in the form of a minor traffic violation, and the above indicators alone would not be enough to conduct a stop or search without a warrant. However, there are certain cases in which "reasonable articulable suspicion" may be enough to conduct a search without a warrant. Drug trafficking is indeed big business--not just for traffickers, but for law enforcement who may profit from seizure.
Legal Defense Strategies for Trafficking Charges
The legal penalties for trafficking in CDS are substantially more severe than those for simple possession. Rather than just hiring any defense team, it is very worthwhile to look for someone with expertise in this particular area of the law. Anyone arrested on suspicion of trafficking needs immediate representation from a skillful drug trafficking defense lawyer.