CEDAR CITY – An early morning traffic stop on Interstate 15 ended up netting the Iron County Sheriff’s Office 24 pounds of cocaine, a drug that authorities say is beginning to make a comeback.
Jesus Ochoa-Pérez, 34, is was arrested Tuesday morning and is facing a second-degree felony for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, a third-degree felony for possession of cocaine, a class B misdemeanor for possession of paraphernalia and two traffic violations for impeding traffic and unsafe lane travel.
Ochoa-Pérez was allegedly carrying 24 pounds, 8 kilos, of cocaine when he was originally stopped at about 2 a.m. at milepost 62. The drugs, valued on the street for around $250,000, were being transported via the I-15 “pipeline” from Mexico to Illinois with a stop in between at San Jose, California, authorities said.
Since the drugs were allegedly transported across state lines, the Drug Enforcement Administration is likely to handle the criminal charges, Iron County Sheriff’s Deputy Wade Lee said.
In the last 10 years, the streets have been inundated with drugs like methamphetamines and heroin, but authorities said they have recently begun to see more cocaine making its way through the pipeline.
“It’s definitely on the rise,” Lee said. “We’re seeing more of it than we’ve seen in years and years. It’s concerning.”
Lee initially pulled Ochoa-Pérez over for traffic violations after following him for several miles.
“He was acting really suspicious and slowed way down to where a semi had to pass him in the right lane,” Lee said. “Then he almost ran off the road.”
When the deputy began questioning the suspect, Ochoa-Pérez told him he was traveling from his home in San Jose, California, to Illinois, where he said he worked.
“The story just didn’t add up,” Lee said. “And he should have been traveling down I-80 but these guys don’t go that way because the UHP Interdiction team sits on that highway and makes bust after bust. So to avoid them they take the long way and go down I-15. He also couldn’t tell me what he did for a living without pausing. He had to think about it.”
Officers could smell marijuana when first approaching the car, but Ochoa-Pérez said the smell came from his friend whom he had stopped to see earlier.
The suspect agreed to a search of his vehicle, at which time Lee said he called in a Utah Highway Patrol K9. The dog allegedly detected drugs, prompting officers to conduct a further search of the 2014 Nissan Maxima, where authorities said they found six kilos of cocaine in a backseat compartment and another two kilos in the back-passenger door.
The entire vehicle search and arrest took nearly four hours to complete.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has lodged a detainer against Ochoa-Pérez, who has allegedly remained in the country for several years under illegal alien status and has a previous criminal record, Lee said.
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