Federal agents seized more than 65 pounds of cocaine hidden in a Florida-registered Mercury Mariner SUV on Grand Island late last week, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. announced Monday.
The bust was one of the largest local drug seizures “in quite some time,” Kennedy said.
“The street value is well in excess of $1 million,” Kennedy said of the cocaine. “This is clearly a significant load.”
A North Tonawanda man, Edgar Joel Jimenez-Rodriguez, 38, was arrested by investigators after he got into the SUV Thursday evening.
Jimenez-Rodriguez faces a charge of possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. That charge carries a minimum of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine.
“Obviously, this is not a street-level dealer; this is a significant trafficker,” Kennedy said during a news conference Monday.
The vehicle was unloaded by a car hauler at about 7 p.m. Thursday at the Fuccillo Toyota dealership on Alvin Road.
The driver of the car hauler does not face any charges at this time, Kennedy said. Investigators believe the Toyota dealership had no involvement in the case, he added.
“That was just a ‘by-chance' location, where this transaction took place,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he couldn’t discuss whether Jimenez-Rodriguez has a criminal history.
A group of federal and state investigators saw the hauler pull into the Toyota dealership while “on surveillance,” Kennedy said.
The truck was carrying several Toyota vehicles, as well as the Mercury Mariner.
Jimenez-Rodriguez pulled up to the dealership in a Honda Accord as the vehicles were unloaded from the hauler. And once the Mercury Mariner was unloaded, Jimenez-Rodriguez got into the SUV and left the parking lot, Kennedy said.
He was later stopped by officers, who observed plastic “protruding” from the rear end of the vehicle, Kennedy said.
A U.S. Border Patrol K-9 Unit was called to the scene, and early Friday morning, a search warrant was obtained and executed for the SUV, Kennedy said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Astorga on Monday said federal investigators received information indicating the SUV was headed to Western New York. Astorga did not say where the car hauler first started its trip. The SUV was picked up in Florida, though, she confirmed.
Kennedy declined to elaborate on the specifics of the investigation.