DOYLESTOWN — A traffic stop by Bedminster Township Police Ofc. James Zukow after he saw a vehicle weaving back and forth on the road about 11:30 p.m. Jan. 29 led to drugs with a street value of about $4 million being seized, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said at a Feb. 4 press conference.
"This is a good day for law enforcement. We were able to make an incredible seizure, a great bust," Weintraub said.
During a search of the vehicle, which was stopped at Branch Road and Dublin Pike, marijuana was found in a purse and other drugs and cash found in two backpacks, investigators said in the criminal complaint filed in the case.
Christian Ochoa, 28, of Laredo, Texas, the driver of the Jeep, and the passenger, Edith Tomasa Rodriguez Cardenas, 27, of Huntington Park, California, were each charged with crimes including possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, conspiracy and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Ochoa is the owner of a tractor trailer he had driven from California and that was at a truck stop in Upper Macungie, Lehigh County, Weintraub said.
The tractor trailer was searched on Feb. 3, he said.
The trailer had a legitimate load of agricultural products, but drugs were found in the cab, he said.
Between the vehicle stop and the tractor trailer search, 10 kilos of heroin/fentanyl with a street value of $3 million; nine kilos of either cocaine or fentanyl, which will be determined by laboratory testing, and has a street value of $900,000 if it is cocaine or three times that if it is fentanyl; 962 pills that appear to be Percocet and have a street value of $29,000; 60 Xanax pills, about $45,000 in cash; six cell phones; and one handgun were seized, Weintraub said.
"This is a huge drug bust," he said.
Along with the drugs, cell phones, handgun and cash, investigators also found four Jesus Malverde candles, Weintraub said. Jesus Malverde is known as the patron saint of drug traffickers, Weintraub said.
It appears Ochoa and Cardenas were "just passing through" Bucks County and that it was not the planned destination for the drugs, Weintraub said.
"They didn't get to their destination, fortunately," he said.
We are in the midst of a twin pandemic, he said.
"We were already in a pandemic before we ever heard the word COVID-19, and that is the drug scourge that we've been battling for years," Weintraub said.
Drug overdoses are up during the COVID pandemic, he said, and drug traffickers "are taking advantage of this second deadly pandemic to further their cause and perpetuate the first one."
The intercepted drug shipment is believed to be part of a larger drug trafficking organization, he said.
"Certainly, our goal is to work up the chain and try to trace these drugs back to their source," he said.
"The case was investigated by detectives with the Bucks County District Attorney's Office Drug Strike Force, Bedminster Township Police, Dublin Borough Police, Pennsylvania State Police, Doylestown Township Police, Upper Macungie Township Police, Central Bucks Regional Police, with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office," the Bucks County District Attorney's Office said on its crimewatchpa.com page. "The case is assigned for prosecution to Assistant District Attorney Megan Stricker."
After the Bedminster stop and preliminary arraignment, Ochoa and Cardenas were taken to Bucks County Correctional Facility, with cash bail set at 10 percent of $1 million for each, Weintraub said.
If bail is posted, there would first have to be a hearing on the source of the bail money, he said.
"They cannot post bail with money that is tainted as a result of narco-trafficking," he said.
Additional charges are expected to be filed in connection with the search of the truck in Lehigh County, he said.