Troopers Sniff Out Cocaine, Nearly $33K Cash in Car Stop
A Massachusetts state trooper (above left) holds a bag containing tens of thousands of dollars found in a Jeep with two suspected drug dealers Saturday. At right, a brick of suspected cocaine sits in a makeshift compartment cut into the dashboard.
About a dozen air fresheners of different kinds placed throughout a Jeep Cherokee was the first thing that raised a state trooper's suspicions, followed, in short order, by the vague and hesitant answers the driver and passenger gave and the marred chrome trim around the passenger side airbag compartment.
The trooper's suspicions during the car stop Saturday on Route 290 in Worcester were well-founded, as a Massachusetts State Police dog soon alerted to an odor of drugs in the area of the airbag compartment. When troopers opened that part of the dashboard, they found an aftermarket compartment built into the area where the airbag should have been. Inside that "hide" was a large block of a white powdered substance, estimated to be approximately a half-kilogram of cocaine, 20 smaller baggies containing powdery white rocks, and another baggie holding clumps of white powder. Alongside the suspected cocaine was a black trash bag that held what turned out to be $32,810 in cash. A separate bundle of cash in the front of the car totaled $751.
State Police charged the Jeep's driver, JOEL M. ALICEA, 28, of Lawrence, and passenger, ALEJANDRO NUNEZ PEREZ, 28, of Methuen, with trafficking in cocaine, possession of a Class B narcotic with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to violate drug laws.
The sequence of events leading to the arrests began at 4:15 p.m. Saturday when Massachusetts State Trooper Dana Oliver saw the Jeep traveling at a high rate of speed eastbound on Interstate 290. Trooper Oliver clocked the sport utility vehicle for approximately a quarter-mile at 65 miles per hour, 15 miles per hour greater than the posted speed limit. The trooper stopped the Jeep just after Exit 17.
When Trooper Oliver walked up to the Jeep, he was met by an overwhelming odor of chemical air fresheners. Upon questioning, the two men inside seemed hesitant or unable to say who owned the Jeep until looking at the registration, and then were vague about from where they were coming. ALICEA told Trooper Oliver they had gone to Springfield to buy diapers and other small items for his daughter; when questioned why the men went from Lawrence to Springfield just to buy diapers, ALICEA's response was to show the trooper a photo of the little girl on his cell phone.
Ultimately, Trooper Oliver counted 12 different air fresheners in the Jeep, including scented trees hanging on mirrors, clip-on fresheners on the vents, and pieces of urinal deodorant pucks under every seat.
While speaking with PEREZ, the passenger, Trooper Oliver noticed marks and scratches on the chrome trim on the part of the dashboard where the passenger-side airbag is usually contained, raising the trooper's suspicion that the airbag compartment had been opened recently.
By this time, State Trooper Matthew Moran responded to assist, as did State Police K-9 Section Trooper Raymond Jones and his partner, Dakar. Trooper Jones deployed Dakar, who is trained to detect the odor of narcotics. She alerted to the passenger-side airbag area. Trooper Jones then worked Dakar through the rest of the Jeep, but she returned again to the airbag area as a point of interest.
The troopers also observed plastic shavings and tool marks on screws in the dashboard. Using a pry tool and a flashlight, troopers were able to see cut sheet metal inside the dash where the airbag should have been. At that point, troopers pried open the airbag area and found the hide containing the contraband.
Troopers gave ALICEA and PEREZ their Miranda warnings and transported them to the State Police Barracks in Holden to be booked. A court clerk ordered them each held on $100,000 cash bail pending their arraignments in the Worcester District Court, which was expected to happen today.