|Arrests could result in federal charges|
|Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor|
May 4, 2004 -- A federal investigation that could lead to closure of a major Mexico-to-U.S. cocaine trafficking vein is attributed to tough luck on the part of the drug smugglers Sunday.
Police interdiction officials almost had to let two accused cocaine traffickers go due to lack of evidence when a faulty battery confirmed their suspicions that something wasn't right.
"We searched for a while and didn't find anything," Sulphur Springs Police Sgt. "Buddy" Cleve Williams said Tuesday morning. "At one time while we were looking under the hood, we saw things about the battery that sparked our attention. There just was not enough evidence to justify cutting into and pulling the battery apart. We at that point made the decision that the dog must have been alerting on a residual odor and we decided to let them go. Then the motor on their vehicle wouldn't start when they went to leave. It was like deja vu all over again."
The police sergeant was referring to the discovery by State Trooper David Reynolds of concealed substances due to a faulty vehicle battery.
"A while back, David Reynolds made a stop on a felony traffic warrant," Williams recalled. "He let the subject drive the vehicle to Western Union. When the subject killed the vehicle it wouldn't start. Reynolds looked at the battery and found the same thing as we have here -- drugs in the battery. His find and what he did is what brings us here now."
Sulphur Spring Police Cpl. Jason Ricketson stopped a 1998 model Dodge Durango, driven by 28-year-old Maria Cortez, at 10:57 p.m. Sunday on Interstate 30 east at the 127 mile marker. Ricketson immediately recognized the passenger, 25-year-old Juan Garica, as a man he had stopped within the last month in the same vehicle.
With nothing to go on but their suspicions, the officers were prepared to let the two go on their way when the Durango failed to start. The officers then took out their pocket knives, which they used to pry apart the Durango battery, where they discovered a metal plate. By poking through that and breaking through the side of the battery, they discovered bundled cocaine -- six bricks weighing about 13 pounds.
Both Corez and Garcia were arrested at 11:49 p.m. and taken by patrol office Kenny Stillwagoner to the sheriff's office, where they were booked on aggravated first-degree felony charges of possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine.
The officers then followed the pair to the sheriff's office, where they began "debriefing Mr. Garcia, explaining what type of trouble he was looking at, what type of trouble he was in."
"We talked to him about working with law enforcement," Williams said. "He decided it was something he needed to do, would be in his best interest to work with law enforcement."
At that point Williams and Ricketson made contact with a special agent in the U.S. Customs office, who headed for Sulphur Springs. Local Tactical Narcotics Team Task Force officials were also contacted, and at that point the case and investigation was turned over to them.
The special investigators then had Garcia and Cortez call their connection, notifying the contact that they had broken down and would require assistance from someone available to pick them up.
"The head guy sent two more individuals to pick them up," Williams explained. "When they got here they went straight to the vehicle. We had put the cocaine back into a battery that looked just like the one we took it out of. They went straight to the car and the battery, and they took them down in the parking lot and arrested them at that time."
Armando Verdin, 35, and Guadalupe Garcia, 33, both from out-of-state, were taken to the county jail, where they were also booked with aggravated felony possession of more than 400 grams of the controlled substance cocaine.
Cortez and Juan Garcia were released later Monday on $500,000 bond each on the drug charge. Verdin and Garcia remained in Hopkins County jail midmorning Tuesday in lieu of the $750,000 bond set by Precinct 1 Justice of Peace Yvonne King.
"There is a big possibility that federal charges will be filed on these suspects, and we may end up shutting down a major drug vein," Williams said. "There's no doubt the main guy in this has contacts in Mexico. If we can shut him down, we may be shutting down a major vein for trafficking cocaine into the United States."
Both Ricketson and Williams commended all of the authorities from the various agencies for their quit work and cooperation.
"Everybody involved did a real good job," Williams said. "There were no hang ups, everything was well organized and all of the agencies involved worked extremely well together.
"Me and Jason, we're just pleased that our efforts out there turned into more, more people stopped from running back to the supplier to haul more in. That's what it's all about."