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Police make huge pot bust
Jun 08, 2006 12:00 am
June 2, 2006 – Six men, some of whom are believed to be Mexican nationals, were taken into custody by Lebanon police this week as part of the largest narcotics seizure in the history of the Lebanon Police Department.
The Wednesday morning sting resulted in the seizure of approximately 722 pounds of marijuana, according to Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen.
City police were notified a "large shipment" of marijuana was bound for Lebanon on Memorial Day, he explained. The drugs – hidden behind a false wall in a tractor trailer – did not arrive in the city until Wednesday, however.
"We got contacted yesterday morning, and they basically said, 'It'll be there in 20 minutes.' So, our guys kind of had to scramble with the SWAT team and the narcotics agents," Bowen said. "It was to be delivered on West Main Street. We arrived … and took six individuals into custody and seized four separate vehicles, one of those being the tractor trailer."
A drug dog from the department's K-9 Unit "hit" on the tractor trailer, alerting officers to the possible presence of narcotics.
"A cursory search of the trailer found it to be empty, but it appeared that there was a false compartment in the front of the trailer," Bowen explained. "At that point, we secured everybody and obtained a search warrant. Upon searching the trailer … we took the false wall apart and found 316 different bails of marijuana."
Depending on whether the drug was sold in "bulk" or divided up and sold on the street, Bowen noted the estimated value of the illicit shipment to be between $750,000 and $1.5 million.
"As far as quantity, that's the largest amount of narcotics that we've seized at one time," Lebanon Commissioner of Public Safety Billy Weeks commented. "I've been here 28 years, and that's the largest I've seen at one time."
Bowen added the LPD SWAT team assisted the department's Special Operations Division with the seizure due to the scope of the illegal delivery.
"When you're talking this kind of dope and this kind of money being involved, you never know what these people are capable of, and we were able to take all six of the individuals into custody without incident," he remarked, adding no weapons were discovered upon searching the vehicles.
"That's the good part about it – that it went so smoothly," Weeks said.
Taken into custody at the scene were: Yoel Prieto, 23, no address given; Eduardo Flores, 25, of New Mexico; Ricardo Arellano, 43, of Texas; Jose Luis, 34, of Nashville; Ruben Martinez, 24, also of Nashville and Arturo Meza, 36, no address given.
All six men are being held in the Wilson County Criminal Justice Center under $500,000 secure bond and have been charged with criminal conspiracy to possess over 300 pounds of marijuana.
Bowen noted an arrest warrant has been issued in Nashville for a seventh individual who was believed to be the planned recipient of the drug shipment. Noting the subject has yet to be apprehended, Bowen declined to identify the suspect.
The police chief said the shipment to Lebanon originated in "at least New Mexico."
"One of these individuals (Flores) is the owner of the tractor trailer, and from what he told us, he was going to be paid a specific amount of money to deliver the marijuana here in Lebanon," Bowen said.
"I'm pretty sure that we'll find that they're Mexican nationals," Weeks added, "and we'll have to advise the Mexican Consulate that they are in custody here because they're not citizens here."
Both Weeks and Bowen commended the SWAT team and Special Operation Division on the results of the investigation.
"I'm so proud of my guys," Bowen said. "We'd been planning this since Monday and then, all of a sudden, they gave us 20 minutes to get this done."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.