ST. GEORGE — A late-night traffic stop on Interstate 15 ended up netting the Utah Highway Patrol more than 2.5 pounds of heroin found during a search of the driver’s luggage Saturday.
The incident began when a UHP trooper patrolling I-15 in Iron County stopped a gray Toyota Rav-4 for following too close.
While speaking to the driver, the trooper became suspicious of possible drug activity and requested that an Iron County Sheriff’s K-9 unit be dispatched to the scene, according to the probable cause statement filed in support of the arrest.
K-9 Bolos was deployed, and during a sniff around the vehicle, the dog indicated the presence of narcotics, at which point troopers began a search of the car and discovered 2.5 pounds of heroin concealed in a suitcase located in the trunk of the vehicle. Troopers also found mail and prescription medication during a search of the luggage that were in the driver’s name.
Both men were then placed under arrest and transported to the UHP office in Cedar City for questioning.
According to police, the driver said he knew the drugs were in the vehicle and said the heroin was being transported to the Salt Lake City area.
The driver, identified as 34-year-old Salvador Partida of Paramount, California, was transported to the Iron County Jail facing one second-degree felony count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and a driving infraction for following too close.
The trooper also requested that Partida be held without bail, as the suspect “would constitute a substantial danger to any individual or to the community,” and is a flight risk, as he has no ties to Southern Utah, the trooper noted in the report.
The passenger was later released, and no pending charges against him were located, according to the report and a search of court records.
The drug seizure is part “Operation Pipeline” and the street value of the heroin was estimated to be more than $290,000.
The case falls under Operation Pipeline, a national highway interdiction program supported by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Seizures from private vehicles are reported to Operation Pipeline by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies operating along the highways and interstates most frequently used to transport illegal drugs and their proceeds.
Mexican black tar heroin and brown-powdered heroin are the two most predominant types found in Utah, while heroin from Southeast Asia is available in very limited quantities. Most of the heroin seized in Utah is transported from Southern California and is destined for other states, according to a report by the National Drug Intelligence Center.
Mexican criminal groups, the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of heroin in Utah, transport the drug from transshipment points in California, Arizona and directly from Mexico by traffickers using private and rental vehicles, as well as in commercial trucks. Moreover, the significant increases in opium poppy cultivation and heroin production in Mexico has increased the amount of high-purity, low-cost heroin entering the U.S., recent data released by the DEA said.
According to law enforcement authorities across the state, most of the illicit drugs transported into Utah by Mexican criminal groups are destined for other areas of the United States, but according to the report, there are Mexican criminal groups that transport and distribute drugs within the state using a very structured hierarchy of members that is typically controlled by a single family.
The DEA also said that drug poisoning deaths remain the leading cause of injury death in the United States, and the death toll is the highest ever recorded. Additionally, over the past nine years, the number of people killed in drug overdoses is higher than the number of people killed by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide.
Under federal law, if a person is caught trafficking a kilo of heroin, which is 2.2 pounds, they can be sentenced to serve a minimum of 10 years to life in federal prison. Additionally, if the drugs are transported over state lines, then federal law applies, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
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