Friday, February 6, 1998
248 pounds of marijuana seized on I-20
By BOB BRUCE / Abilene Reporter-News
Traffic violations led to two major drug busts Thursday on
Interstate 20 west of Sweetwater with DPS officers seizing nearly
250 pounds of marijuana.
The largest haul occurred near Roscoe about 2:50 p.m. when
Trooper R.J. Nunez halted an eastbound 1986 Ford and found 133
pounds in a false compartment in the trunk.
A Lawton, Okla., man, Jorge Lois Mirlas Jr., 20, was arrested
About three hours earlier, Trooper Mark Negri confiscated 115
pounds of marijuana when he stopped a 1985 Pontiac station wagon
on the Nolan-Mitchell County line.
Two El Paso men were arrested by Negri, who found the drugs
in a false compartment in the rear of their vehicle.
Negri stopped the eastbound vehicle about 11:55 a.m. because
of a seat belt violation, said Sparky Dean, safety education officer
for DPS in Abilene.
It marked the second straight day for large marijuana interdictions
on I-20 in the Abilene area.
Unofficially since Jan. 27, DPS troopers and other lawmen have
seized 1,745 pounds of marijuana in six busts along I-20. They
also seized $2,000 cash found hidden in a van. No drugs were found,
but a DPS drug dog detected the smell of marijuana on the money.
The westbound van's two occupants denied ownership of the money
so it was seized by the state as the fruits of a crime, and the
men were allowed to go on their way without being charged with
Finding drug money, but no drugs, in a westbound vehicle bolstered
one agent's comment: "The drugs go east; the money goes west."
On Wednesday, 85 pounds of marijuana was seized near Baird
by an agent of the West Central Texas Interlocal Crime Task Force.
A Fort Worth man, Ubaldo Carrillo, 31, was booked for felony
possession of marijuana in the Callahan County Jail at Baird.
Dean identified the pair arrested by Negri as Leonardo Castro
Jr., 21, and Christopher Paul Tena, 20, who were taken to the
Nolan County Jail in Sweetwater.
Assisting Thursday along I-20 were Troopers Scott Stevenson,
Todd Snyder and Mike Thompson, DPS Narcotics and the Nolan County
The drug seizures prompted Sweetwater Police Chief Jim Kelley
to identify I-20 as "the aorta from El Paso east."
Kelley labeled the highway as a main supply route for drugs.
A week ago, a DPS trooper and Nolan County sheriff's officers
seized 1,052 pounds of marijuana on I-20 in Sweetwater with a
street value of more than $1.5 million. DPS officials called the
haul the largest seizure by DPS troopers in the Abilene area in
at least 10 years.
A day earlier, DPS officers seized 60 pounds of marijuana from
a vehicle on I-20 in Sweetwater.
And on Jan. 27, a DPS trooper seized 300 pounds of marijuana
from a van traveling on I-20 near Ranger.
Kelley noted, too, that Sweetwater is "at a crossroads"
with State Highway 70 intersecting I-20. Highway 70 leads south
to U.S. 277 and on to San Angelo and Del Rio on the Mexican border.
Earlier Thursday in Abilene, veteran narcotics officer Billy
Schat observed that the marijuana seized at Baird was encased
in what he called "border wrap."
The one-pound blocks were enveloped in wrapping tape and plastic
bags, common packaging in Mexico, Schat said.
Schat commands the Crime Task Force, a regional law enforcement
unit that covers 15 counties in the Abilene area.
Since its inception 10 years ago, the task force has participated
in the seizure of drugs valued at nearly $23 million, Schat said.
"We're mainly a support agency," he said.
Schat says law enforcement in this area faces four main drug
groups: marijuana, various forms of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
The last two drugs have regained some of their past popularity,
Schat was cautious in identifying drug trends or methods of
operations -- either by narcotics agents or dope dealers.
"They watch our trends and methods as close as we try
to watch them," Schat said.
Schat ventured the opinion that lawmen may be "getting
better at finding these folks."
"I've said it before and will say it again: part of it
is luck -- but also good police tactics. We're getting better."
Kelley also said his department is paying for information,
a policy that is reaping dividends.
"We will continue making drug busts as long as drugs are
in the community," Kelley said.
Recently a sniffer dog for the Nolan County Sheriff's Department
found 17 pounds of marijuana beneath a mobile home.
And early Wednesday, police and sheriff's officers were fired
on by a drug suspect, shooting through a wall as they sought to
serve a warrant.
Other communities have reported recent drug problems.
In Brownwood, lawmen reported several arrests in January for
crack violations. On one occasion, $13,500 in crack was confiscated,
while other street values have ranged from $2,000 to $5,000.
On Monday, Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant of Stephenville
said $10,000 in marijuana and methamphetamine were seized at a
home between Lingleville and Huckabay, and a woman was arrested.
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