2 in custody; DEA now handling
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect additional details that were not available yesterday.
Hopkins County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two men during a traffic stop at 12:42 a.m. Thursday on Interstate 30 east and seized 8 kilos of methamphetamine (17.6 pounds).
Deputy Jason Lavender was reportedly working criminal interdiction on Interstate 30 east when he allegedly observed a gray Chrysler 200 with Texas plates and stopped the vehicle for two traffic violations.
The vehicle reportedly stopped at mile marker 116, and Lavender made contact with the two occupants, Pablo Vega, 28, and Salvador Madrigal-Morales, 24. Morales reportedly had no driver’s license and gave the same Denver address as Vega. Vega is a U.S. citizen, and Morales is a Mexican citizen, according to arrest reports.
According to Sheriff Lewis Tatum, the men are suspected of being affiliated with a Mexican cartel. Arrest reports showed both men listed emergency contacts in Los Reyes, Michoacan, Mexico.
Lavender reportedly obtained verbal consent to search the vehicle and deployed his K-9 partner, Chiv. The K-9 reportedly gave a positive response to the presence of the odor of narcotics inside the vehicle at 1:18 a.m. Both occupants and the vehicle were reportedly transported to the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office to conduct the search.
Deputy Lavender reportedly located a hidden compartment under the driver’s side front seat of the vehicle. He allegedly opened the compartment and observed multiple large clear Ziplock bags containing a large amount of a crystal-like substance at 2:35 a.m. Deputies reportedly removed a total of eight bags containing the crystal-like substance. A second hidden compartment, which was empty, was reportedly located under the front passenger side seat. Tatum said the two men had likely already completed a delivery.
Investigator Dennis Findley pulled up the carpet in the driver’s side floorboard of the passenger compartment to reveal a metal panel that had been spot-welded above the actual interior floor with a hinged trapdoor.
Under the hood, a loosened battery alluded to previous smuggling activities, according to Tatum.
“This is not the first time this car has been used for that [smuggling],” Tatum said.
Deputies Zach Horne and Lavender reportedly conducted a field test on the crystal-like substance, which tested positive for methamphetamine. Tatum estimated the street value of the seized methamphetamine to be approximately $2,500 to $3,500 per pound. The estimated total for all 8 kilos (or 17.6 pounds) is between $44,000 and $61,600.
Vega and Morales were both placed under arrest and charged with one count each of possession of more than 400 grams of a Penalty Group 1 controlled substance. Bond was set at $100,000 for each man.
Tatum said the Drug Enforcement Agency has assumed jurisdiction over the case due to the amount of methamphetamine involved. The two men remain in custody in the Hopkins County jail as of press time Friday, according to arrest and jail reports.
“Jason Lavender is our new interdiction officer,” said Tatum. “We see a very productive future for him and Chiv. They’re out on the road doing a great job. I’d like to thank the Hopkins County Commissioners for allowing me to create the interdiction spot within our department. It’s worked very well for fighting the large influx of narcotics in Hopkins County and all other counties along Interstate 30.”