TAYLORSVILLE — A three-day drug interdiction operation in Tooele County by Utah Highway Patrol troopers resulted in 17 felony drug arrests and more than 550 pounds of raw marijuana seized, state and federal officials announced Wednesday.
From Aug. 9-11, the UHP brought 15 troopers from around the state to Tooele County for an operation along I-80. The troopers made a total of 289 traffic stops resulting in 52 misdemeanor arrests in addition to the 17 felony arrests, and the seizure of 556 pounds of marijuana, 320 THC vape cartridges, 37 pounds of THC edibles, and two handguns in addition to four DUI arrests.
The Department of Public Safety along with U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber announced the results of the operation during a press conference on Wednesday.
“If these amounts aren’t alarming to you, understand that out of 289 traffic stops over three days, pulling that amount of drugs off of our roadways and guns out of the hands of those (not allowed to possess them), is significant,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson.
In one case, a couple hauling a BMW on a trailer was stopped for having no license plates and speeding. Inside the BMW on the trailer, troopers found 213 pounds of marijuana, approximately 300 THC vape cartridges and 4 pounds of THC wax, according to charging documents.
James Garth, 31, of Eureka, California, and Barbara Wilmoth, 34, of San Jose, California, were charged in federal court with possessing more than 100 kilograms of marijuana with intent to distribute. Garth told troopers he was being paid $500 to deliver the car to Salt Lake City, according to a police affidavit.
Huber said the three-day operation represents just a snapshot of what is happening on Utah’s freeways every day.
Just as the operation was finishing, a woman was pulled over about 6 a.m. on Aug. 12 on I-80 near Tooele and 219 pounds of marijuana was found in her vehicle, according to a police affidavit. Formal charges, including possibly federal charges, were pending against the woman on Wednesday, according to officials.
On July 30, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Florin Daniel Goran, 36, and Claudia Marie de Marco, 35, both of California after they were caught with 330 pounds of marijuana, 1,240 vape cartridges, 150 THC chocolate bars and 126 packages of THC edibles in a semi pulled over at the Utah-Nevada border on I-80, Huber said.
Huber spoke out strongly Wednesday against illegal marijuana and blamed a “serious lack of control” in California, where marijuana sales are legal, for the mass amounts of marijuana passing through Utah.
“This marijuana we’re talking about is not grandpa’s marijuana from when he was in junior high in the ’60s. This marijuana is very different … this is dangerous stuff,” Huber said.
A lot of marijuana being seized on Utah’s freeways is destined for states in the East and Midwest. But “some of those loads are destined for right here in Salt Lake City or other parts of Utah,” Anderson noted.
Vape cartridges in particular are of great concern to law enforcers because Utah’s high school students are typically the ones targeted by dealers, he said.
UHP Col. Mike Rapich said the enforcement efforts along I-80 near the Nevada border were focused on illegal black market marijuana and drug trafficking, not Utahns who go to Wendover where recreational marijuana sales are now legal.
“We’re not talking about legal marijuana here. We’re not talking about marijuana purchased legally,” Rapich said. “This was completely black market, illegitimate, there was no connection to any legal nexus within the state of Utah for it to be here.”
From Jan. 1 through Wednesday, UHP troopers had seized a total of 97 pounds of meth, 17 pounds of heroin, 8 pounds of cocaine, nearly 1,250 pounds of marijuana, more than 6,700 vape cartridges, over $400,000 in cash and 45 firearms, Anderson said.
Huber said domestically grown marijuana is currently a “hot product” on the black market, selling for about $3,000 per pound.