The alleged drug runner in what federal officials are calling the largest methamphetamine bust ever in Utah said he was a struggling college student who needed money for school and surgery for his mother, according to new court documents.
On Sunday night, investigators found 56.5 pounds of methamphetamine in a car in Salt Lake County. The meth, which had a wholesale value of up to $1 million and a street value of up to $5 million, was being shipped for sale in Salt Lake City, officials said.
The driver of the car, 24-year-old Osiel Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia, told investigators he was given $500 a pound to transport the drugs, according to a federal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia, of California, said he was taking the drugs from the Orange County area to Salt Lake, court documents state.
Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia, who faces a maximum penalty of up to life in prison and a $10 million fine appeared in court briefly Tuesday and was assigned a federal public defender. That attorney, Rob Hunt, said the man will plead not guilty to the charges. A detention hearing was set for Thursday morning.
Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia reportedly told investigators he was transporting the drugs for a man named Juan in Mexico and was supposed to sell the drugs to a man identified in court documents as Pariente.
Sue Thomas, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency, has said the bust was part of a yearlong investigation of the Sinaloa cartel.
Over the year, agents have seized 127 pounds of meth and 7 pounds of heroin being trafficked by the Sinaloa cartel, Thomas said. The meth found Sunday appears to have been smuggled into the United States while packed into PVC pipe and inside the rear quarter panels of the car.