SANTA ROSA, Calif. (BCN) - Two New York men were arrested Wednesday night after over 100 pounds of marijuana was allegedly found in their rental car during a traffic stop on U.S. Highway 101, a Sonoma County sheriff's sergeant said.
A sheriff's deputy saw a black Toyota Avalon traveling too closely to a vehicle in front of it on southbound Highway 101 in downtown Santa Rosa around 9 p.m., Sgt. Spencer Crum said.
When the deputy stopped the car and contacted the driver, Stephen Molinero, 27, of Staten Island, New York, he smelled the odor of marijuana in the car, Crum said.
Molinero and his passenger, Almir Ramic, 29, of Staten Island, New York, denied any knowledge of marijuana in the car, Crum said.
"They didn't have much to say," deputy Brian Parks told KTVU as he drove southbound on the 101 freeway, showing where he made the stop near Hearn Avenue.
In his career, Parks, who works for the Windsor Police Dept, has discovered drugs in hundreds of vehicles. He said his intuition told him the rented Toyota sedan, speeding and tailgating, might be one of them.
"Both men told me they had not been using, or smoked, or transporting marijuana," Parks said. But his nose told him otherwise and so did his canine partner.
The deputy's drug-sniffing canine, Jags, a 4-year-old German Shepherd, alerted to several duffel bags of processed marijuana that were double-wrapped, shrink sealed and disguised with air freshener, Crum said. The value of the marijuana in New York is about $5,000 a pound, and Molinero was carrying $2,000 in cash, Crum said.
Parks said the K9 enjoys the hunt for illegal drugs.
"This is fun for him," Parks said, "because he's trained in the odor of four different kinds of narcotics."
Jags knows that a rubber ball, and a game of tug of war, will be his reward when he "alerts" that he's found something.
"He'll stop, stare, look back at me, wag his tail, and stop sniffing," Parks said.
Both men were arrested and booked in the Sonoma County Jail for possession of marijuana for sale, transportation of marijuana for sale and conspiracy, but they were released on a $30,000 bail bond, Crum said.
Authorities said both men have extensive criminal records. And they were attempting to double their money by selling the substance back East.
"Here, marijuana might go for $1,000 to $2,000 a pound," Park said. "Back on the East Coast, it can go from $2,000 to $5,000 a pound depending on the quality."
That's the difference between a quarter million and a half million dollars. But as big as this freeway bust was, it's not uncommon.
"There are cops around here who work these streets who make by far bigger arrests than this one," Parks said. "And I myself got 303 pounds in one single stop last year."
For Jags, it was a good day at work.
"Well he did, in fact, get extra treats that night, yes," Parks said.
KTVU reporter Debora Villalon contributed to this report.