Archive for Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Traffic stop nets cache of cocaine

Two men face charges in U.S. District Court

March 10, 2004

The little buzzer in Trooper David Heim's head was impossible to ignore.

As the driver of a truck that Heim had stopped along the Kansas Turnpike explained he was traveling east to Kansas City to do work for family members, Heim had trouble believing the tale.

"He gave an implausible story about how he was coming to visit family and do some work for them but he didn't know their address or phone number," Heim said about the traffic stop he made about 8 p.m. last Wednesday just inside the Leavenworth County line. "Right away, my little buzzer started buzzing inside my head."

The buzzing was near deafening as Heim searched the bed of the truck and found -- tucked carefully among building materials -- 23 kilograms of cocaine. That's the equivalent of about 50.6 pounds.

"This stuff is going to be probably 95 percent pure or more," Heim said.

He estimated the street value at $2.3 million.

As Heim was preparing to stop the vehicle, he called fellow trooper Mark Christesen, who lives in Tonganoxie, to tell him he would be late for a previously planned coffee break. Christesen told Heim he, too, was behind a vehicle with New Mexico plates. Heim suggested Christesen stop the vehicle, if there were any reason to. But there wasn't.

But Heim ran the tag numbers for both vehicles and determined that three days before they had crossed together from Mexico into the United States at El Paso, Texas.

"We know they're connected," Heim said.

Cell phone records also connected the two drivers, he said.

That second vehicle was found and the driver was arrested at the Holiday Inn Express at Bonner Springs.

On Friday, a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Kan., indicted Robert J. Herrera, 53, Albuquerque, and Pete Monsivais, 35, El Paso, on one count each of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, according to U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren.

If the two are convicted, they would face a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in federal prison without parole.

Heim said it's not uncommon for drug traffickers to travel in pairs -- one with the drugs and the other watching.

"That's not the first time that we've encountered one," he said. "The boss, the leader isn't taking any risks. It's uncommon to catch both of them just because there are so many places for them to get off."

Heim said 23 kilograms of cocaine was the most he's ever netted in a drug bust.

"I knew something was up," he said. "I suspected it was narcotics, just because he was coming from El Paso. I was thrilled it was coke. We like to make big busts of any kinds. Coke and meth are special to us. Because of the harm to people."

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