Patrol's Weigh Stations Finding More Pot! 

Patrol's Weigh Stations Finding More Pot! 
Posted by FoM on May 31, 1999 at 10:13:34 PT
Hidden in Shipment! 
Source: Post Net
STRAFFORD, Mo.Interstate 44 has long been known as a major route for drug trafficking, with arrests and seizures commonplace in Missouri.
But state officials report a significant increase in finds of big caches of marijuana heading north. Much of it is being intercepted at the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Strafford weigh station, which has become a gold mine for jumbo marijuana seizures.Through May 6, more than 19,000 pounds of pot has been found by the patrol's Troop D, much of it hidden among a variety of seemingly legitimate 18-wheeler shipments traveling east from western and southwestern states.That's more than was found in the previous four years combined by the patrol, records show.And last year, nearly $3 million in suspected drug money was found in a westbound tractor-trailer.``I can't believe the amount of drugs we're finding,'' said Strafford weigh station supervisor David Brooks, a patrol commercial vehicle inspector for more than 20 years.``But the thing I think about every day is, how much are we missing? It kind of makes you feel we're just hitting the tip of the iceberg,'' Brooks said.But that tip appears to be growing larger thanks to drug interdiction training for weigh station officers who, until a few years ago, were not even authorized to carry guns.``It took a while for the experience to accumulate for us to be able to use the training we were given,'' says Dick Thomas, who heads the Troop D Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit.``Our main goal is still traffic safety,'' he says. But in making sure drivers meet the rules of the road with proper paperwork, the search for drugs is now high on an inspector's mental checklist.``We're looking for it every time,'' Thomas says.Despite the big busts this year, U.S. attorney spokesman Chris Whitley says large truck drug hauls are not new.``If you're trying to get something moved, do it in the most efficient and least risky way possible,'' he said. ``The bigger the load, the fewer the trips and the less risk in some cases, but more in others.''When Abbas Amir Shambayaty's trucking log book betrayed him to investigators on March 10, it led to a record interstate pot find for Missouri.More than 6,500 pounds of processed marijuana were found bundled in 81 of 800 cardboard boxes that otherwise contained dried peppers. Shambayaty said the Texas-based shipment was destined for Belletini Foods, a modest three-store grocery chain in Wilmington, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago.Belletini owner Joe Doglio said he never ordered a truck load of peppers. ``One case of dried peppers would last all three of our stores an entire year,'' Doglio laughs.Doglio is concerned about how his name and address happened to end up on the shipment list, saying he's never bought food directly from Texas.Shambayaty, 28, denied knowledge of the drugs and said he had personally watched the trailer being loaded five days earlier at a packing company in Fort Worth. However, court records indictate the packing company apparently does not exist.And Shambayaty's log book showed several discrepancies, including a two-day delay in the shipment, downtime that's unusual for truckers.Investigators say it's not uncommon for legitimate truckers to be recruited into shipping drugs while waiting in desolate trucking lots for their next load.With payoffs as high as $15,000, ``the temptation is huge,'' said vehicle inspector Mike Garcia, who works at the Joplin-area I-44 weigh station. Several thousand pounds of pot have been seized there so far this year.Garcia believes most large drug shipments can be linked to cartels whose members will buy their own rigs, hiring otherwise honest drivers in need of cash, or experienced interstate runners.The consequences are stiff for those caught hauling tons of pot.Shambayaty faces 10 years to life in federal prison and a $4 million fine after being charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.Several other defendants recently charged in Greene County face similar sentences, assistant county prosecutor Penny Melton says.Manuel P. Alapizco, 40, has no criminal history in Phoenix, where he lives, police say. But he faces a life prison sentence in Missouri if convicted of hauling 1,700 to 2,500 pounds of pot, found last month among a load of tomatoes and cucumbers.
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