Mar 15, 2013 1:20 PM by Faye DeHoff

Marijuana load 'squashed' by Pinal County Narcotics Task Force

PINAL COUNTY - A semi-truck carrying produce on Interstate 10 on Wednesday was also carrying something else- nearly a million dollars worth of marijuana.

A K-9 deputy on patrol noticed a semi-truck abruptly change lanes when he saw the marked unit sitting in the median. The deputy pulled into the westbound lanes behind the semi-truck, which continued its erratic movements. The deputy observed the driver change lanes without a turn signal, cut off vehicles and slow down to 40 miles per hour on the interstate. The deputy stopped the driver for the traffic violations. As the deputy approached the trailer of the semi-truck he immediately smelled marijuana. The driver, 59-year-old Norberto De La Vega of California, told the deputy was returning to Los Angeles. He acted very nervous and was visibly shaking as he handed over his paperwork. This gave the deputy enough suspicion to retrieve his canine partner. The dog alerted immediately on the trailer and the deputy called for backup from the Narcotics Task Force.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office Narcotic Task Force made entry into the trailer. Inside were 32 large cardboard vegetable bins full of squash. The cardboard bins had ventilation-type holes that revealed duct-tape wrapped packages concealed underneath the squash

As deputies continued to investigate and offload the trailer, a total of 1,243 pounds of marijuana was found hidden inside the cardboard bins. The marijuana has an estimated street value of nearly $925,000. De La Vega was placed under arrest and faces numerous of drug offense charges.

After the evidence was secured and ownership of the load was declined by all parties, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office donated the squash to St. Mary's Food Bank.

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