"The Monster Meth Load"
No one had seen a load of meth this large said DEA east of Arizona.
You may have read in a previous Marco Catch story about how one of the most difficult areas he had sniffed out drugs were inside the actual tires that were rolling down the highway on a vehicle. Let me explain that it isn’t the vehicle is rolling down the highway when he smells it but rather it’s the concept that the vehicle had been made to drive down the highway like any other vehicle and that after being stopped by me or any other law officer, then Marco may smell the drugs inside the tires. Still confused? Let me explain. Drug INterdiction. Criminal Interdiction.
The first time Marco and I or anyone in our agency for that matter who had ever seized drugs from within specially made compartments inside the tires of a vehicle occurred right after becoming a Dog Handler with Marco. I had been lucky enough to see a training video put together by some Narcotic Detectives from California who had showed a new method of finding drug smuggling. The video went into detail how the drugs were compressed into specially formed compressed crescent shapes to fit inside the crescent shaped metal compartments built for the wheels. The video went on explaining that the metal compartments were constructed with some simple welding skills and then these hollow compartments were filled with drugs and then mounted around the rims of the Pickups trucks this organization was using.
The video went on explaining they had arrested a subject who gave them information on how the compartments were made in Mexico, and the operation smuggled the marijuana across the border using this method and then driving locally to a “stash house”. Then the compartments would be dismantled so the marijuana could be smuggled in larger increments and shipped around nationally.
I was astonished on how much work someone would go to smuggling marijuana in the country. But more astonished was how this method was so fool-proof. Who would ever think that drugs could be put in the tires rolling down the highway and not destroyed? With this method, it was very possible. But I knew I would never see it being a trooper over 1500 miles away from where most of this dope was coming across the border. And then came the Chevrolet pickup with California plates.
The time span was only six months after seeing that five minute training video from California. I was just working a normal day stopping motorists for various offenses when around 2PM I clocked an eastbound pickup traveling 73 MPH. The speed limit at that time on the interstate in my area was 65MPH so the 8 miles over was more than enough to give them a warning. I had seen as it sped in the opposite direction that it was a brown Chevrolet pickup with a topper enclosing the pickup bed, it was occupied with a lone male and that it had a front and rear California license plate. So I saw visually it was over the speed limit then confirmed it with the RADAR.
With my agency, we troopers are trained extremely well to visually estimate the speed of moving vehicles and be within 2 miles per hour when we are certified. Yes, that’s right. Before we are ever issued a RADAR unit, we have to get use to using it and first be able to pick out the speeding traffic visually. Then we use the RADAR to get the actual speed, and we confirm that speed in various other ways by checking our own speed with what the RADAR shows for our speed, and we also listen to the Doppler tone that is emitted to see the RADAR is clocking the correct car, which we are visually watching.
After this pickup came at me speeding I slowed down to turn around my K-9 unit in the median and proceeded as fast as my unit would go to catch up. After I closed in on the pickup I was able to get another speed clock but this time using VASCAR, which is another speed clocking device. The VASCAR said the pickup was going 83 MPH and I then turned on my red lights on the patrol unit to pull it over. The pickup slowly pulled over and I saw two heads pop up in the back of the pickup bed that had the topper. So I knew there were at least three in the truck. It pulled over to a stop and I walked up slowly. I was able to get the drivers license from the driver and with his limited English he said the truck belonged to the guy in the back. So I went back to the rear and got the license from him. After I had a conversation with him, I learned he was Juan Escobedo and the girl had no I.D. I asked him out of the back of the pickup truck and talked for a little while. Long story short, I became suspicious because of some majorIndicators I had been trained to detect.
Escobedo gave me permission to search the pickup so I called and got a backup unit there. George arrived within a few minutes and I told him I thought something was “up” but hadn’t started any search and there may be something hidden in a gas tank, a false topper, a false pickup bed, or many other places but was going to get Marco out and see what he had to say. I went and retrieved Marco from the patrol unit and walked him to the rear of the truck and placed him in a “down” position. He knew from his limited time “on the streets” that he was going to sniff the vehicle. We had only been working together for around seven to eight months but we had already seized a lot of dope hidden in vehicles.
When I walked him around the truck, the three suspects were standing down off the roadway in a safe position and George was keeping and eye on them. When Marco walked around the rear to the front with him pausing at the first tire and started to sniff all around it I thought he was going to pee on it. So I pulled him away from it. He did the same thing to the other tires and I couldn’t quite believe what he was telling me.
I didn’t think it was possible to actually drive with drugs inside the tires and make it from Los Angeles to the middle of the United States, but I had to trust my dog. So I walked Marco around the truck again and he alerted to the rims one more time. But I was a very inexperienced K-9 officer and still didn’t quite know how to trust my dog especially trying to believe drugs could be “in” the tires. But finally I knelt down and stemmed some air out of the valve stem to smell the odor myself. Then George did the same. We both concluded the tires had marijuana in them so we then had no alternative but placed handcuffs on the three suspects and then had the truck towed to a gas station at the closest interstate exit.
We dismounted the front passenger tire and immediately remarked it seemed very heavy. After putting it on a tire dismount machine and getting a crash course on how to operate it from the gas station attendant, we first unscrewed the valve stem core to rapidly let all the air out. Once we did this, it was quite clear with the odor of raw marijuana emitting throughout the garage, we were gonna be real busy for a while. After we got all the tires dismounted and the metal compartments off the rims (all four) we had seized 88 lbs of marijuana, a Chevrolet pickup truck and 3 people who eventually went to prison.
But this seizure in the tires would not come close to Marcos’ biggest “tire seizure” amounts he would be responsible for. Even though that Chevrolet pickup would be instrumental in helping guys like George and me as well as others locate this type of concealment, it would not be until four years later that one of these tire compartments would be the home of a massive methamphetamine seizure.
A cold November Monday night had me working my favorite “high crime area”: Interstate 80. I was working my standard night shift when around 8 PM I saw a Ford pickup going the opposite way than I was. The pickup was going eastbound in Hamilton County when I saw the rear taillights flashing once and a while. I turned my patrol unit around through the median and sped up to make a traffic stop on the vehicle and to issue a simple “fixit ticket” to get the tail-lights fixed.
When I got close enough to the truck I checked the license plate to make sure it was not stolen before I turned on my emergency lights to let it know I wanted it to pull over. My dispatch advised me the California license plate belonged to the Maroon Ford pickup in front of me and was validly registered to a guy in Fresno California. Realizing it was not entered as a stolen vehicle, I turned on my red and blue lights on top of my Ford Bronco that was now my assigned K-9 unit. I could see two people in the truck and it quickly pulled over to the shoulder.
I put my spotlight on the drivers mirror and back window to make it hard for them to see me clearly and then slowly approached the truck over on the passenger side which caught both of them off-guard. They were just young kids I first thought. The driver stated he had no license because he had lost it on this trip back in Reno Nevada. I asked for the registration and the passenger reached in the glove box and retrieved it and handed it to me. That’s when I asked him for any type of I.D. and he handed me a California driver’s license that he had tucked into his wallet. I explained the violation and they both said they thought something wasn’t working right because of so many vehicles coming up to pass them would then flash their lights at them after they passed. I explained it would just be a quick violation card that some people call a “fixit ticket” and that they just had to make sure it got fixed and no fine would be given to them. They both seemed way too excited about all of this, and since I had no idea who the driver was I asked him out of the Ford.
I followed him back to my patrol unit and quickly asked him if he was carrying any weapons on him and I would like to check him before letting him in my unit. He said “I ain’t got no weapons…no way.” And then turned his back to me, placed his hands up and laced his fingers behind his head like he has this maneuver rehearsed. I checked him and found nothing illegal and no wallet was found either. I had him sit in the unit and started my quick check on seeing who he was. He said his name was David Loya and he said he was twenty years old and had lived in Fresno his whole life. He said that the truck belonged to a friend back home and they were driving to Sioux City Iowa. I asked him why he no license and he said that he had forgotten it back at the hotel they had stayed the night before in Reno Nevada. I asked him the name of the hotel and he quickly said “The Golden Nugget".
He went on with his story about losing his wallet and that he had even called the hotel to see if they had found it in his room. He said he hadn’t realized he had lost it until an hour or so before they were stopped. I asked how was he paying for all the gas with no wallet and he quickly said, “Danny’s payin’ for everything” as he nodded up to the passenger in the truck. I asked him the passenger’s name and he said it was Danny Vasquez and they had been life-long friends.
He explained the reason they were going to Sioux City was to see his aunt. I asked had he ever been to Sioux City and he said he had not. He in fact remarked he had never been out of the state of California. I asked him why was Danny going with him and he said because they were friends and that he asked Danny to go to help drive, he said Danny was paying because of him losing his wallet and he would be paying him back. “What’s your aunt’ s name?” I asked. He quickly said her name was Guadalupe Casarez. He said “we all call her Lupe.” After he gave me his full name and date of birth, I called it in to dispatch to see if this was indeed David Loya and if he had a valid California license and was not wanted on any warrants. As I wrote out the fixit ticket, I told him to stay where he was because I wanted to talk to his friend.
As I walked up to the Ford I wondered if everything was normal on this stop and it was nothing more than a couple young guys on a road-trip or something else. When I walked up to the passenger side again, the passenger saw me coming and rolled his window down. I asked him whatwas the name of his buddy back in my unit. He said, "that’s David…David Loya…he’s got a good license…just not with him.” I asked him how he knew Loya and he said they had been friends since they were little and had went to the same schools and lived a few blocks from each other. “Where you guys goin’?” I asked. “We’re going to Iowa.” “Where in Iowa though” I had to make clear. He said to a city called Sioux City because they were going to see his aunt. “You’re aunt?” I asked but not in a too suspicious way. “Yeah” he said. “You and David are friends or related or what?” He said they were good friends but weren’t related. I asked why David was going if they were going to see his aunt. Danny replied, “It’s a long drive, so I asked him if he wanted to go along. “What’s your aunts name you guys are gonna go see?” I asked. “Her name is Guadalupe Casares. “Can you spell her last name?”
He quickly responded “C A S A R E S.” I confirmed a few other things that both David and Danny had the same story on but wondered had I misunderstood David when I asked about the aunt? Because right now I have these guys with the exact believable story EXCEPT that they both say the aunt is their own. “Thanks man” I said to Daniel and walked back to my unit.
I also checked the passenger Daniel Vasquez with the State Patrol dispatch to see if he had any warrants and to see if he had a valid license. As I waited for dispatch’s response on the licenses I asked Loya the driver, “How long you guys gonna be up there in Sioux City?” He said, “Just a day or so, we both gotta get back to work.” Then I asked, “What’s your aunts last name and can you spell it.” He then said, “Her name is Casarez, C A S AR E Z.” “You and Danny related in any way?” “Nope, just friends” he said. "Has Danny ever met your aunt?” “No, I haven’t seen her in a long time either.”he replied. So I now knew that both these guys were saying the aunt was their own and that they both spelled it differently. This was a pretty major discrepancy I felt but everything else they said was exactly the same. From the amount of time on the road to many other things, but the “aunt story” was not the same. So after the dispatch told me they both had valid licenses, I advised Loya how to take care of the fixit ticket, to get it fixed at the next chance he had so he had working tail-lights while they were driving during the night and then told him to drive safe. He thanked me, shook my hand and stepped out into the cold November air.
Quickly I exited my patrol unit too and then asked David if he had a fewseconds of his time. “Sure” he said. I then went into my questioning that I use when asking about criminal activity and eventually received consent from Loya to search the truck. I then had him stay by the patrol unit and went up to the Ford and asked Vasquez for his consent too. Even though I knew I didn’t need it from Vasquez, I wanted to see how he responded. Both these guys now seemed extremely nervous. Quite a difference from the calm demeanor they had earlier. So I asked Vasquez out of the truck and had them both stand down in the ditch so I could deploy Marco on the truck. But first I had to check Vasquez for weapons and found none.
Then I made a call to dispatch saying I wanted another unit to come to my location to back me up. That’s when I got Marco out of the Ford Bronco, walked him to the Pickup and had him lay down. We did our little “ritual” before a sniff and then I watched Marco lead me around the pickup. He immediately stopped at the first tire and sniffed all around it and started to scratch at the thing. I pulled him away and tried to get him to go forward. He walked forward and then came right back to the same tire and started to alert again. This time I led him to the front of the truck near the engine and led him in the counter-clockwise direction we had been trying to go. He made it around the front to the driver side and then alerted all over the driver side front tire and rim.
After this alert and seeing how profound of an alert and scratching indication he was doing, I went and placed both Loya and Vasquez in handcuffs. After we got the pickup truck towed to the Aurora interchange, I pulled off the tires and on the tire machine I was able to dismount the tires from the rims and saw the metal compartments inside. After the first one was dismantled and the metal compartment unbolted from around the wheel, I saw the compartments had been sealed up with “bondo”. I broke the “bondo” off the ends and saw bundles the size of a large soap bars wrapped in saran wrap crammed inside.
I made some calls and we had the truck put on a flat-bed tow truck to be towed back to our main office in Grand Island and me and a couple other troopers transported the suspects with us. After we got back to Grand Island many of us worked on getting all the metal compartments out of all four tires and after we were done taking all the packages out of the compartments we had sixty-four of them. What shocked me more was that after immediately seeing the first couple bundles back at the gas station when we dismantled the first one, I knew it was not marijuana. It was a hard brick of compressed white, off-white powder.
When it would not field test as cocaine, many of us really didn’t know what to do. This was in the days of lots of coke and weed being transported all over the country. But it was just in the beginning in our history where methamphetamine was going to start to become a very big drug in society. Meth had already been a major problem in the west, but never being transported in large huge amounts like this. All in all it turned out to be thirty-four pounds of methamphetamine with a street value at that time of over 1.5 million dollars. But in all reality it would be worth up to ten times that when you consider how the purity of the meth in the wheels was so high that it would be consistently mixed with other powders to “cut” or “step on” to make more of your product but lower your purity. Millions of dollars worth from within four tires rolling down the highway. Strike up another bust for Marco.