BY: Rick McCann
NTL. ASSOC. PRIVATE OFFICERS
Law enforcement officers in two different parts of the state assigned to interstate drug squads arrested three people and took more than $12 million of drugs off the streets this week-end.
Officers in Saraland, close to the city of Mobile, searching an 18-wheeler filled with mattresses and furniture Saturday found a 220-pound cocaine stash among the cargo, authorities said.
Two officers’ whose primary duty with the department is to patrol the section of Interstate 65 that runs through Saraland in the hopes of stopping drug traffic, stopped a tractor trailer for moving violations .
When the driver reacted bizarrely to questioning, the officers asked if they could search the cargo, and the driver consented.
A drug-sniffing dog — a Belgian malinois — keyed on the cargo container from the outside, and, once the container was opened, led officers to a wooden shipping crate near the front of the compartment, Young said.
Inside the crate were 10 bundles of cocaine, Young said. Each bundle contained 10 individually wrapped kilos. The shipment would have been worth roughly $11 million on the street, Young said.
Saraland police said that the two officers who stopped the truck were Sgt. Greg Cully and Officer Nick Gorum, who made a similar bust in 2007 that netted 92 kilos of cocaine, Chief Gerald Young said at a news conference Monday.
Cully and Gorum made Saturday’s bust after pulling over the northbound truck near the Celeste Road exit of I-65 for “following too close and improper lane change,” Young said.
Both officers received special training on how to spot potential drug mules on the interstate Young said.
Police routinely use traffic violations to justify pulling over people they have been told are carrying drugs, but Young said his officers did not have prior knowledge about the truck’s contents.
Young said Cully and Gorum’s interstate patrols have turned up stolen cars, guns, drugs and a dead body in a trunk.
Further up the Interstate system in the Birmingham metro area police conducting two separate traffic stops also made substantial drug arrests and recovered large amounts of illegal drugs.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department’s Highway Safety Unit stopped two vehicles in a span of 15 minutes Sunday which led to deputies confiscating more than 400 pounds of marijuana being smuggled on Interstate 20 East near Irondale and Leeds.
According to Lt. Randy Christian, here’s what happened:
A truck pulling a trailer with two horses was stopped for a traffic violation. A search of the trailer uncovered more than 400 pounds of marijuana with a street value of $820,000.
About 15 minutes later, a rental car was stopped with about 10 pounds of marijuana hidden inside. The drugs had a street value of about $22,000.
Although the two stops were unrelated, both vehicles appear to have been headed to the Charlotte, N.C., area.
Jorge Cruz Saenz, 23, of McAllen, Texas, was arrested in the first stop and has been charged with marijuana trafficking. Saenz was being held Monday in the Jefferson County Jail on $250,000 bond.
Courtney Thompson, 28, and Johnnie Robert Thompson, 42, both of Charlotte, N.C., and 34-year-old Oscar Charles Willingham of Gurdon, Ark., were arrested in the second stop. They are charged with marijuana trafficking and are each being held on a $50,000 bond.
Alabama Interstates have long been used as a superhighway connecting drug runners with major cities from the southwest to the east and the north a law enforcement agent said. Alabama is smack dab in the middle of that network and police and sheriff departments have been working together for several years to curb that flow of illegal drugs, weapons, and felons.