A man arrested with nearly 220 pounds of cocaine, in Utah's second largest drug bust, apparently is an illegal alien from Veracruz, Mexico, federal prosecutors said Friday.
The suspect, identified as Nicolas Becerra-Lopez, 29, was arraigned Friday before U.S. Magistrate Ron Boyce and ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing Oct. 10.The man had originally been identified as Fernando A. Largo of West Hollywood, Calif., when he was arrested Monday on I-70, near the rural and remote, east-central Utah community of Green River.
"We're not sure who he is until we get all the fingerprint work done. He has a couple of names, and right now we're not sure who he is," said Steve Lough of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Dee Benson, U.S. attorney for Utah, said, "The important aspect of this is how much cocaine is traveling on the interstate highways of our country."
"If you break this down into dosage units," Benson said, "then you're looking at roughly 990,000 highs out of this quantity of cocaine. The retail value of this is $25 million to $30 million."
The suspect's 1984 Volkswagen camper was eastbound on I-70 when he passed an Emery County Sheriff's deputy who had stopped another vehicle for a traffic violation.
The suspect's camper-van allegedly was weaving back and forth, and he was pulled over for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol, said Sheriff Lamar Guymon.
The driver's license did not match the vehicle's registration, so the deputy asked to search the camper, Guymon said. The vehicle was impounded when a small quantity of cocaine was found in a vent.
Investigators opened a false top and found 99 kilograms of the drug, just 1 kilogram short of Utah's largest drug bust ever.
"We believe he was coming from the Los Angeles area and was heading to New York," said Lough. "It does hurt one organization, but it's not going to have a big impact."
And Benson said, "The statistics we're hearing is that a good, efficient drug organization can lose 80 to 85 percent of its product and still operate on a very healthy profit.
"Unfortunately, these kinds of seizures are important, but they're not getting to the real problem, which is the demand in America. We wouldn't have these kinds of loads crisscrossing America's interstate highways if the demand wasn't there."