SALT LAKE CITY — Two people were arrested and a significant quantity of methamphetamine was seized by Utah Highway Patrol troopers near Cedar City on Sunday.
The bust happened just 3 miles from where the UHP made an even bigger meth bust just a few weeks ago. Between the two incidents, five people were taken into custody and more than $1 million worth of meth was seized.
On Sunday, a car was pulled over on I-15 near Cedar City for minor traffic violations. The trooper immediately noticed two open beers in the vehicle, and when the man and woman in the vehicle were questioned they gave conflicting stories, according to an Iron County Jail report.
A police K-9 was deployed and gave a "positive alert to the odor of narcotics coming from the vehicle," the report states.
A subsequent search turned up 24 pounds of methamphetamine in three hidden compartments "in the dash and firewall" of the car, the report states. The drugs have an estimated street value of $500,000, according to police.
Edgar Miguel Perez Medina, 25, and Auriana Renee Lopez, 23, were arrested for investigation of drug distribution, altering a vehicle compartment to hide drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The bust comes less than a month after troopers made an even larger bust in essentially the same area.
A car was pulled over for a minor traffic violation on July 11. The driver did not have a driver's license on him. He claimed he was driving to Minnesota with the two other men who were in the vehicle, though he did not know the name of the person in the passenger seat, according to an Iron County Jail report.
"This and other statements made me suspicious that there was criminal activity afoot," a Utah Highway Patrol trooper wrote.
This prompted a search of the vehicle.
"The spare tire was unusually heavy and didn't roll like it should. I could feel packages moving around in the spare tire as I attempted to roll it," the report states. "Inside the spare tire were 10 packages of suspected narcotics."
A total of 29 pounds of methamphetamine was found in the 10 packages, according to police.
The driver, Adrian Garcia, 39, of Lynwood, California, was charged July 12 in 5th District Court with drug distribution, a first-degree felony; drug possession, a third-degree felony; possession of drug paraphernalia and DUI, class B misdemeanors. Garcia tested positive for having meth and cocaine in his system, according to the report.
"Garcia has criminal history for possession with intent to distribute narcotics," the report states.
Ruben Apolinar Morales, 28, whose last known address was in Los Angeles, was charged July 12 with drug distribution, a second-degree felony; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor.
"Apolinar's criminal history shows he has alien inadmissibility in 2013. Apolinar has a tattoo of Santa Muerte on his right forearm and was wearing a Santa Muerte necklace," according to the report. Santa Muerte is regarded as the patron saint of the Day of the Dead in Mexican culture. But it has also been adopted by drug cartels who pray to her for protection of their criminal enterprise, according to law enforcement experts.
When he was arrested, troopers noted in the report that the man who was in the front passenger seat "states he doesn't know his name or his date of birth." The man was identified in court records as Jose Benavidez, 66, and he was charged July 15 in 5th District Court with drug distribution, a second-degree felony, obstructing justice, a class A misdemeanor, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor.
The report also noted that while the other two men "appear to be homeless," Apolinar, who was in the back seat, was "well dressed" and had more than $800 cash in his wallet.