Four Mexican nationals are in jail after police seized about 22 pounds of cocaine and $130,000 in cash from a storage shed and home in west Salt Lake City.
At a news conference Saturday, officials praised the interagency cooperation that resulted in the confiscation - "the largest seizure made in the state of Utah," said Drew Moren, the resident agent in charge of the Salt Lake Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "With the exception of pipeline seizures (drugs seized in route)."The cocaine was confiscated from a storage shed at about 400 S. Redwood Road at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Three of the suspects were arrested there by two plainclothes officers and three patrol officers.
Based on information received at the storage shed, the Metropolitan Narcotics Strike Force put a home near 800 North and 1400 West under surveillance until federal agents obtained a search warrant. The Salt Lake City SWAT team entered the home and took another man into custody, Moren said.
A canine unit was used to find about $130,000 dollars and four firearms, three of which appear to be semiautomatic, he said.
"Obviously, what they were doing is setting up a distribution center," Moren said. "What's scary is that there's $130,000 in cash, which means there was more cocaine that is now on the streets. And another question is, how much more money has been moved out of town to purchase more cocaine?"
The cocaine has been directly linked to Culiacan, Mexico, a drug hub, said Moren, adding that it is the first time he's found that kind of a connection in Utah.
"Am I surprised to find the cocaine? No. Am I surprised to find a direct line into Culiacan? Yes," he said. Police believe one of the suspects is the ring's leader for the state.
"I think cocaine usage in the Salt Lake Valley is generally on the increase," said Terry Keefe, commander of the Metropolitan Narcotics Strike Force. "Drug traffickers on the West Coast and East Coast are so saturated, and they are looking at Salt Lake as virgin territory. They look at this (area) as a smart economic move."
Three of the four suspects made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce Saturday. They were all charged withone count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. It carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.
The suspects requested a translator to interpret the charges and explain the system. Two of the suspects requested court-appointed counsel, while the other said he could have his brother represent him.
An arraignment hearing was set for Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. All are being held without bail. The state expects to file charges soon against the fourth suspect, who was arrested at the house.