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Deputies seize 250 lbs. of pot

By Donna Swicegood
Record & Landmark
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Two illegal immigrants face felony charges and deportation after a traffic stop Saturday uncovered 250 pounds of marijuana.
Victor Pena Ponce, 30 and Adrian Curiel Ibarra, 24, both of Los Angeles, Calif., remain in jail in lieu of a $1 million bond on three counts of trafficking marijuana.

Authorities said the arrests came after Sgt. Will Byrd of the Iredell County Sheriff's Office Interstate Criminal Enforcement team stopped a red Ford pickup truck on Interstate 40 near the 157 mile marker around 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

Byrd stopped the truck, which was pulling a mixer for roofing materials, because the mixer didn't have a license tag, said Sheriff Phil Redmond.

Ponce was at the wheel of the truck, and he told Byrd that the mixer didn't need a tag in California, and then that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had run out of tags, Redmond said.

The passenger told deputies that he and Ponce were headed to Burlington from California for a roofing job, said Lt. Jimmy Craven of the narcotics division.

Craven said deputies looked inside the truck but didn't see any roofing materials.

The deputies then utilized a resource through the Drug Enforcement Administration called EPIC (El Paso Intelligence Center) in an effort to learn more about Ponce and Pena, Craven said.

EPIC concentrates primarily on drug movement and immigration violations all across the United States.

Through EPIC, Byrd discovered neither Ponce nor Ibarra were in the country legally, and that Ponce had previous drug violations, Craven said.

The deputies obtained permission to search the truck and the mixer.

"They noticed the bolts (on the mixer) had been tampered with, and they found a plaster panel," Craven said.

Deputies chopped through the plaster and found a hidden compartment and the marijuana, he said.

Craven said the marijuana has a street value of $600,000.

Redmond said authorities are not sure where the marijuana was headed. "They said they were going to Burlington, but we don't know if they were telling the truth," he said.

And even if it was bound for Burlington, Redmond said, it doesn't mean the drug activity won't affect Iredell County. "It doesn't mean it's not coming back here," he said.

This seizure brings the total amount of drugs confiscated by the sheriff's office this year to nearly $8 million, Redmond said.
 
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