Pure ‘ice’ meth found on highway

Published 11:45 am Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nearly 3 1/2 pounds of “ice” — an almost pure form of crystal methamphetamine — was seized by Warren County deputies Wednesday following the early-morning traffic stop of a vehicle in which two men, two women, a toddler and an infant were riding, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

The cache, with a street value estimated at between $225,000 and $400,000, was being smuggled in the tailgate of a 1990 Nissan pickup being towed by a 2003 Chevrolet Blazer, Pace said.

The two men, driver Gerardo Garcia Mendoza, 24, and Ricardo Garcia Mendoza, 23, identified by investigators as brothers, are both in the country illegally from Mexico, the sheriff said.

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“The majority of what we refer to as ‘ice,’ pure-grade methamphetamine, that we encounter in this area, comes from Mexico,” Pace said.

The relationship between the women and children and the Mendozas is unclear and part of the investigation. The women, who both hold valid Georgia driver’s licenses, were questioned by deputies and immigration officials but there is no indication they were involved in or aware of the drug trafficking, Pace added.

Immigration officials said there was no reason to detain the women and they were released with the Blazer late Wednesday evening, he added. “It’s not unusual for drug couriers to use women and children as cover to make their travel appear more like a family vacation,” Pace said. “In many cases they don’t know the true reason for their journey.”

The Blazer could have been seized by the sheriff’s office but more was owed on it than it was worth, and the county would have had to pay off the lien, he added.

The men were traveling with a statue of Santa Muerte, literally “Saint Death,” and both sport tattoos of the figure venerated by many in Mexico and often used by drug traffickers who believe it offers protection for their activities, said Sgt. Jason Bailess. “It’s not a 100 percent given, but it’s a very strong indication of illegal activity,” Bailess said.

Deputy Brandon Jones made the traffic stop at about 4:30 a.m. on Interstate 20 near the Utica-Mississippi 27 exit when he noticed the pickup, on a car trailer, swerving side-to-side in traffic, Pace said.

The Blazer displayed a paper tag, not a permanent license plate. When approached, neither the driver nor the passenger had a driver’s license or any acceptable form of identification, he added.

“The deputy was suspicious of their activities, and asked for and received permission to search the vehicles,” said the sheriff. Inspecting a protruding area of the pickup’s tailgate, the deputy found a package of crystal meth and took the vehicles, the driver and the passengers into custody, he said.

Additional ice — a total of 3.34 pounds —was discovered after investigators impounded the vehicles, received a warrant and made a thorough search including dismantling the tailgate.

“This kind of crystal meth usually sells for between $100 and $200 a gram, depending on how and where it is sold,” Pace said. “The farther you get from the source, the more expensive the drugs are.”

There are 28 grams in one ounce, and nearly 454 grams in a pound, meaning about 1,500 grams of ice were seized.

Pace said there is no indication the drugs were bound for Vicksburg and Warren County.

“This is a significant amount of a very dangerous drug,” Pace said.

Both Mendozas were in the Warren County Jail without bond this morning. They have been charged with possession of crystal meth with intent to distribute and also were being held for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said the sheriff.

They could have an initial hearing as early as today, but Pace said even if a judge sets bond, they will not be able to bond out of jail because of the federal detainer.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents also have been contacted, he said.