The sharp eye of a Utah Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division officer led to the culmination of a lengthy U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation Wednesday night.
Three men were arrested and more than 2 1/2 pounds of methamphetamine were seized worth between $1,300 to $1,700 an ounce on the street. Small amounts of cocaine and heroin also were recovered. The drugs were worth a total of more than $100,000.
"It's a significant bust," said MVED spokesman Charlie Roberts.
The incident began about 5:30 p.m. when MVED agents were going through the Days Inn parking lot, near 3300 South and 300 West, looking for stolen vehicles, Roberts said. An officer spotted a motorist acting suspiciously and began to follow the car. On I-15 near 600 North, the officers pulled the car over for traffic violations and made a high-risk stop because the occupants were constantly looking over their shoulders and stuffing things between the seats, Roberts said.
Drugs and an undisclosed amount of cash were found, and two people were arrested. With help from local police and DEA agents, the officers went back to the hotel, where more drugs were recovered and one more man was arrested.
It turned out DEA agents had been keeping an eye on the three men as part of an ongoing operation called "Chiva Blanca." The goal was to take drugs off the streets by going after midlevel "coyotes" (drug middlemen used to transport the illegal substances from Mexico) and street-level dealers, and to put a dent in some of the drug organizations in Mexico, said DEA acting Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Root.
The three men are illegal immigrants believed to have brought their meth across the border from Mexico. Since Utah has gotten tough on shutting down meth labs and controlling the precursor chemicals used to make meth, the state has seen a significant drop in the number of local clandestine labs. Most meth now comes from over the border, Root said.Because of the amount of drugs found, Roberts said the trio likely will be charged by federal authorities.