Deputies seize 10.5 pounds of marijuana hidden in van

Deputies from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office pulled 10.5 pounds of marijuana from a sealed area between the cargo area of the van and the passenger compartment.

Karen Voyles/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

A traffic stop on Interstate 75 Friday morning wound up being a way to stop more than $40,000 worth of marijuana from getting to Miami, authorities said.

Alachua County Sheriff's Sgt. Brett Rowlands said a white van was traveling 74 mph in a 70 mph zone and following the vehicle in front of it within less than two car lengths.

"It was a major accident waiting to happen," Rowlands said.

Once the 2005 Chevrolet cargo van had pulled over on the side of I-75, deputies said they could smell marijuana from the open window of the van. They also spotted three men inside the van, one seated in a lawn chair between the two installed seats.

Deputy Lloyd O'Quinn and his canine partner Cowboy were called in to check the van, and Cowboy alerted on the rear passenger side panel, deputies said.

"Then we used a laser measuring device, and we saw that the back wall was two feet shallower than it should have been," Rowlands said.

Deputies drilled a small hole in a plywood wall that had been installed behind the passenger compartment and found white trash bags later determined to be filled with 10.5 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $42,000, the Sheriff's Office said.

The three men — who officials said spoke limited English — were taken to the Sheriff's Office to be interviewed with the assistance of a Spanish-language interpreter, deputies said. The van was towed to the Sheriff's Office garage, where technicians and deputies said they cleared out an assortment of items from the back end before being able to retrieve the marijuana.

The items removed from the back of the truck included things like a rusted-out fogger and miscellaneous tools that did not appear to be in working order, deputies said.

"They put these things in there to make it appear like they were working guys." Rowlands said. "One of them told us he was a farmer."

Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said the three men also said they were on their way to Miami from Kentucky.

The men — all from Miami — were identified as Didier Castro, 31, Omar Ortega, 48, and Diosdado Cabello, 67. All three men were charged with one felony count each of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. They were booked into the Alachua County jail.

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