ST. GEORGE — A Mexican national arrested in Iron County last month after 5 pounds of heroin and fentanyl was allegedly discovered in a hidden compartment inside his vehicle has been indicted in federal court.
A federal warrant for the arrest of Tonatiuh Tacuba Palacios, 28, of Mexico, was filed Monday after the defendant was indicted in federal court on one count of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and one count of possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute.
Palacios appeared last week for an initial appearance before U.S. District Judge Paul D. Kohler, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. He will be represented by defense attorney LaMar Winward, and the court also ordered the defendant to be detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
The indictment stems from a traffic stop Dec. 6 when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper patrolling Interstate 15 in Iron County noticed a vehicle with a windshield that was cracked and split in a number of locations that were within the view of the driver.
During the stop, the driver told police he didn’t have insurance or a valid driver’s license and instead gave the trooper his passport issued out of Mexico, according to charging documents filed in 5th District Court in Cedar City.
With no insurance or valid licence, the trooper called for a tow truck to impound the vehicle and inventoried its contents while the tow was en route.
A K-9 unit was also deployed, and during a sniff around the vehicle, the dog jumped into the rear cargo area and indicated to the presence of narcotics somewhere in the vehicle’s interior.
During a subsequent search, the trooper located a void inside of the rear interior panel that was created by removing the speaker and foam blocks. Inside of the makeshift compartment officers found 2.5 pounds of a substance that later field-tested positive for heroin. Also discovered was 2.5 pounds of pills inside packaging that was consistent with fentanyl; however, field testing of the pills was not feasible due to safety concerns, the trooper noted in the report.
A second void was discovered on the bottom of the rear seat, where the foam had been cut out and removed to create a space that was empty at the time of the search.
The suspect was arrested and transported to the Iron County Jail and held without bail, as the suspect was deemed a flight risk. The trooper noted that Palacios was a Mexican national with no ties to Iron County, and the amount of narcotics recovered is often associated with ties to major criminal organizations that would likely provide substantial resources to help the suspect evade capture.
Palacios was charged in 5th District Court in Cedar City the following day with two second-degree felony counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He was also charged with a misdemeanor count of altering a vehicle for contraband and other vehicle offenses, according to charging documents filed with the court shortly after the arrest.
Once the federal case was filed, the state charges were dismissed Dec. 23.
The defendant is scheduled to appear before Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler for a detention hearing set for Jan. 13.
The local street value of the narcotics was estimated to be more than $500,000, the report said, and the defendant allegedly possessed what was confirmed to be more than 1,100 grams of fentanyl, nearly three times the amount required to charge him in federal court. If convicted, each charge carries a sentence of 10 years to life in federal prison.
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