SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Highway Patrol troopers in southern Utah have had a busy two weeks battling illicit drugs, continuing a trend from the summer.
At least three significant drug busts were made on I-15 near Cedar City resulting in the seizure of approximately 130 pounds of meth, nearly 5 pounds of heroin and thousands of THC vape cartridges.
On Sept. 29, troopers pulled over an SUV with an Illinois license plate for following another vehicle too closely, according to an Iron County Jail booking report. When one of the three men in the vehicle opened the glove box to retrieve his passport, the trooper saw what appeared to be jars of marijuana, the report states.
During a search of the vehicle, troopers found 2,030 THC cartridges, Oxycodone and four jars of marijuana.
Majed Ali Hassan, 21, Nuridin Ahmed Sharif, 25, and Naser Osman Moao, 21, were arrested and later charged on Oct. 1 in 5th District Court with drug distribution, a second-degree felony.
On Monday, a vehicle with a Pennsylvania license plate was pulled over on I-15 for a lane violation, according to an Iron County Jail report. The trooper who stopped the vehicle approached the driver and could smell marijuana, the report states. Drug paraphernalia typically used for cocaine was also discovered.
After placing the driver under arrest, a thorough search of the vehicle was conducted. Troopers found a firearm and “located a manufactured compartment that was behind the rear passenger seat. I asked the driver about the compartment and he told me that it had methamphetamine in it,” the trooper wrote in the report.
Police found 86 pounds of meth hidden there, the report states.
“The driver also admitted that he was paid $5,000 to transport the methamphetamine. He also told me that the people that built the manufactured compartment also gave him the firearm for protection,” according to the report.
Channing Allen, 35, of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, was arrested and charged on Tuesday with drug distribution, a second-degree felony; unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, a third-degree felony; having an alternate compartment for drugs, and two counts of drug possession, all class A misdemeanors; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor.
On Tuesday, troopers pulled over a Chevrolet Silverado for speeding on I-15, according to another Iron County Jail report. Jacqueline Vargas, 54, of Salt Lake City, was in the car along with four juveniles that she said were her grandchildren.
As the trooper checked Vargas’ license, he learned her criminal history included drug smuggling, according to the report. A police K-9 was dispatched to circle the vehicle and alerted the trooper to possible drugs, the report states.
“The spare tire was the wrong size to fit the truck, was flat, and the bead of the tire was not seated on the rim. By prying the edge of the tire back, vacuum sealed packages could be observed. The packages were removed from the tire,” according to the report.
Twenty-one package of methamphetamine weighing 43 pounds and four packages of heroin weighing 4.5 pounds were discovered, the report states. Vargas was arrested for investigation of drug distribution and child endangerment. The children were taken into state protective custody.
Vargas was charged Wednesday in 5th District Court with two counts of drug distribution, a first-degree felony; three counts of child endangerment, a third-degree felony; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor.
She was convicted of an amended charge of attempted drug distribution in 1998, and drug distribution in 1999, according to court records. She was sentenced to six months in jail for the 1999 conviction, court records state.
The recent drug busts along I-15 near Cedar City continue a recent trend of seizures in that area.
In July and August, five people were arrested and more than $1 million worth of meth was intercepted in two separate busts.
On Aug. 4, 24 pounds of methamphetamine was found in three hidden compartments in a vehicle, according to police. On July 11, 29 pounds of meth was found in 10 packages inside a spare tire of a car that was pulled over, according to police.