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$10 million in cocaine seized from semitrailer May 3, 2005 news-press.com
A semitrailer that failed to move into the passing lane for a Florida Highway Patrol trooper was pulled over by a Collier County sheriff's deputy, leading to a $10 million cocaine seizure — the second-largest in the county's history.
In all, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Collier sheriff's narcotics deputies found 550 pounds of cocaine in the trailer of the 1998 Peterbilt truck that they stopped Sunday on Interstate 75.
The truck driver was stopped by the sheriff's deputy because of a traffic infraction, said Sean McDonough, group supervisor for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Naples. A trooper had pulled a car over, and a state law requires that drivers move into the passing lane when that's happened.
The truck, which was from California, was northbound on the interstate. The deputy was suspicious and called for deputies with police dogs to check out the truck, McDonough said.
The dogs indicated that they smelled drugs inside the truck's trailer, McDonough said.
Deputies asked the men in the truck for permission to search the cab. They consented, saying that they were carrying a cargo of office equipment bound for Tampa, McDonough said.
But instead of office machinery, deputies found 10 boxes, each containing 55 pounds of cocaine, the agent said.
Officers called the DEA agents and arrested the driver, Roberto Martinez, 27, of Norwalk, Calif., and a passenger, Carnester Ellis, 42, of Victorville, Calif.
The men were not armed and offered no resistance, McDonough said.
Both men are now in federal custody. At a hearing in federal court in Fort Myers on Monday, they were ordered held without bond until another hearing on Thursday, McDonough said.
The destination of the cocaine is unknown and agents are continuing the investigation, McDonough said.
"These arrests culminate yet another successful joint investigation with our state and local counterparts in Collier County," said Mark R. Trouville, DEA special agent in charge.
This was the second-largest drug seizure of any kind that the DEA's task force in Naples has made since April. The mission of the task force of federal agents and local officers is to seize the flow of drugs and drug money along I-75.
Last month, local DEA agents, sheriff's deputies and state Highway Patrol troopers stopped a car that had empty marijuana packages inside.
The investigation led agents and officers to a house in Golden Gate where they found 615 pounds of marijuana. Three Mexican citizens were arrested in the case on federal drug charges.
The largest cocaine seizure in the county's history happened in the mid-1980s when a plane carrying 800 pounds of the illegal drug landed at night on an airstrip in the Everglades, Sheriff Don Hunter said. Several men were arrested and the cocaine was seized following a shootout with deputies and federal agents.