Cops seize lots of pot on I-80
State troopers timed a three-day blitz of traffic stops on Interstate 80 last week with the heavy trafficking of marijuana out of Northern California, the authorities said.
"There were 320 vehicles stopped and we seized 285.5 pounds of marijuana. The biggest seizure that we had in one car was 105 pounds," Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Nigbur said. "We also seized about seven ounces of cocaine, one firearm and $7,800 in cash."
The confiscated drugs, which were taken from 14 vehicles, have a street value of about $1.1 million, he said.
"We focused on I-80 specifically between Salt Lake City and Evanston, Wyoming," Nigbur said in a telephone interview. "Every once in a while they’ll target specific interdiction blitzes and this just happened to be on I-80."
Some suspects arrested in the sting could face federal charges, he said.
"Depending on the load and how big it is," Nigbur said. "If you have drugs with you and have a firearm, it’s a first-degree felony."
The blitz ended Nov. 15.
"Some of these cases we are still trying to work to connect the dots by doing controlled buys, where we continue to take the load wherever it is going," Nigbur said. "We see the delivery through to make more arrests and typically it’s like dominoes. You find these guys and they talk, and we find these other guys."
No drivers were profiled during the blitz, Nigbur stressed.
"It’s all off regular stops for speeding, for failure to signal, for equipment violations and those types of things. We have to have probable cause to be able to stop a vehicle," Nigbur said.
But troopers are trained to spot warning signs, he said.
"A lot of common-sense stuff happens. Sometimes with multiple people there are different stories and that’s a red flag," Nigbur said. "And there are different things that happen on the manifest for the rental car. They say they’re going here, but the rental car manifest says they are going someplace else."
Troopers need permission from motorists to search cars, he said.
"If we have a canine and they deny us access into their vehicle, we can have a canine run around it," Nigbur said. "If a canine hits on a particular part of the vehicle that gives us probable cause to get into the vehicle. If the dog doesn’t hit and we don’t hit a standard of probable cause, the person can go on their way."
The reason for the blitz was two-fold, he explained.
"No. 1, we were very successful last year doing it. But also through different law enforcement connections we try to time the harvesting of the marijuana and how long it takes to dry and get it packaged," Nigbur said. "It’s not necessarily a secret when marijuana is harvested."
For drug traffickers Utah is a "major crossroads," he said.
"That’s 320 cars stopped among thousands and thousands of cars that travel I-80 every day, so is this a big dent in it, probably not," Nigbur said. "But it definitely keeps drugs out of our state and that’s a tall task. It’s very important that we get these loads before they get to these destinations."
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