PARK CITY The drugs were stuffed in garbage bags, duffle bags, plastic containers and luggage.
They were secreted away inside cars traveling along I-80. Or in some instances, they were right there in plain sight.
The Utah Highway Patrol wrapped up a massive drug sweep Friday along this popular drug trafficking route, seizing 213 pounds of marijuana, 55 pounds of cocaine and more than $11,000 in cash and arresting 19 people in four days. Troopers from all over the state had worked the highway since Tuesday, making hundreds of traffic stops that yielded big busts.
"I-80 is a known drug corridor," UHP Capt. Mike Rapich said Friday night, as troopers finished their sweep. "We made 16 significant seizures, which is a phenomenal number."
The seized marijuana has a total street value of $2.1 million. Troopers said it is "high-grade pot," wholesaling for as much as $5,000 a pound when it's purchased in northern California. On the streets, it goes for nearly double that. The 55 pounds of cocaine is worth more than $1 million on the streets.
The drugs were not destined for Utah. Instead, UHP troopers said, they were headed toward Colorado, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina and New York. In addition to I-80, drug traffickers frequent I-70, which also cuts through Utah.
UHP trooper Rob Nixon made numerous stops this week, working with his K-9 companion aptly named Kilo.
"I'll stop a very high volume of vehicles," Nixon told the Deseret Morning News Friday night. "Usually for different traffic violations. In explaining why I pulled them over, if I see any indications (of drug involvement) I'll continue to ask questions."
Most traffic stops are mundane, ending in a warning or a citation, and the driver goes on his way. Drug stops usually have tell-tale signs.
"Most of (the drivers) are nervous," Nixon said. "There are inconsistencies in their stories."
As troopers stood around the hundreds of pounds of seized marijuana Friday, the smell was almost overwhelming. The tell-tale odor is a problem for drug traffickers, who try many different ways to mask the scent, Rapich said.
"They'll wrap it in grease, use garlic powder," he said.
On one traffic stop, Nixon said, he couldn't immediately tell that marijuana was being trafficked until he walked up to the driver."He'd been smoking it," he said.
E-mail: [email protected]