Suspicious speaker box nets seizure of nearly $500K in narcotics in Washington City

Composite image with background stock photo and overlay of suspected narcotics seized during a traffic stop in Washington City, May 11, 2022 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Tool marks on a speaker box led to the seizure of nearly half a million dollars in narcotics during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 in Washington City on Wednesday.

More than 2 pounds each of suspected cocaine, fentanyl pills and heroin were seized during a traffic stop in Washington City, May 11, 2022 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

On Wednesday, a Washington City Police officer noticed a non-functioning brake light on a white passenger car heading north on I-15 near mile marker 12 with California plates obscured by the bracket securing the plate to the vehicle, according to charging documents filed with the court.

The car was stopped 1 mile north near mile marker 13, where the driver reportedly told police he did not have a driver’s license and handed over his cell phone, which contained a photo of his California ID card instead. The driver was identified as 30-year-old Jose Mateo.

The report also states the officer noticed two women sleeping in the car, one sitting in the front passenger seat, 35-year-old Patricia Karley Moreno, while the other was in the rear seat who was identified as 36-year-old Roxanna Hernandez.

Hernandez and Moreno hail from Homeland, California, a town in Riverside County, while Mateo is a resident of San Jacinto, also located in Riverside County in Southern California.

While running a background check on the driver, the officer discovered Mateo had an active warrant for his arrest that was confirmed as matching the suspect by name, date of birth, previous address and social security number.

The officer deployed his K-9 for a free-air sniff around the exterior of the vehicle, which is when the animal indicated the possible presence of narcotics by sitting near where the odor was detected, officers say.

A search of the inside of the vehicle yielded nothing illegal, but while searching the trunk area, officers found a large speaker box and noticed tooling marks where several screws were located, which appeared as if the screws had been removed and reattached several times.

Inside the speaker box was a bag wrapped in towels that contained several large plastic bags containing small blue pills consistent with fentanyl pills.

The combined weight of the pills was more than 2 pounds. Also inside the same large plastic bag, officers found two large bundles, the first of which was suspected cocaine, while the second large bundle contained a brown substance consistent with heroin.

A field test later revealed the bundles tested positive for heroin and cocaine. Each bundle weighed more than 2 pounds, the officer noted.

Washington County Drug Task Force agents were dispatched to the scene to interview the suspects and collect the evidence. The trio reportedly told officers they had ties to Mexico, but no ties to Utah.

The 2 pounds of fentanyl is valued at more than $300,000, while the cocaine that weighed nearly a kilo is valued at more than $56,000, and the street level value is even higher. The heroin seized was valued at nearly $74,000. All told, authorities seized more than $430,000 in narcotics from the car.

All three suspects were arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility facing multiple felony counts.

The officer also requested the suspects be held without bail, a request that was approved by a no-bail hold signed by District Judge Eric A. Ludlow.

Another deadly year for overdose deaths in Utah

Stock image of fentanyl | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, St. George News
The Utah Department of Health states that drug poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the Beehive State – now outpacing deaths due to firearms, falls and motor vehicle crashes. Ten adults die each week from drug overdose across the state – and 80% of those deaths are the result of opioids.

According to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies, Mexico is the main source of fentanyl and its analogues that make their way into the United States. The center also states since 2019, there has been a 720% increase in the amount of fentanyl seized by border patrol agents.

Up until 2019, the report also found that most pure fentanyl that U.S. authorities seized came from the People’s Republic of China, but things have changed over the last few years.

Following the arrest Wednesday, all three suspects were booked into jail facing three second-degree felony counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The suspects remain in custody at the time of this report.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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