Kansas troopers stop high-priced shipment of meth, heroin, fentanyl hidden in gas tank

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State troopers in western Kansas caught a smuggled shipment of drugs worth thousands of dollars that was apparently being delivered to Kansas City.

Several pounds of methamphetamine, black tar heroin and fentanyl pills were found hidden inside a gas tank, according to documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wichita. An affidavit detailing the case was written by a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper who is assigned as a task force officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Investigators said the drug bust happened on Feb. 17 in Meade County. A state trooper spotted a black 2010 Honda Accord with an Arizona license plate driving on U.S. 54. The patrolman observed a failure to signal when the car changed lanes.

The resulting traffic stop led to a search of the vehicle after a K-9 dog smelled narcotics. The troopers opened the car’s trunk and found two plastic gas containers.

“It is common for narcotic traffickers to carry spare gas containers when narcotics are being concealed in a gas tank because the packages create an inaccurate gas gauge read,” the DEA task force officer wrote in the affidavit.

The troopers put an inspection scope into the gas tank, where they saw multiple vacuum-sealed packages tied with a red rope. They drove the car to the Highway Patrol office in Meade to continue the search.

Hidden inside the gas tank were 13 packages. Chrystal methamphetamine weighing 25 pounds was in 11 of the packages. One package had a pound of black tar heroin. One had a pound of fentanyl in small, blue pills with the markings “M” and “30.” Investigators reported “the size, color, and markings are consistent with fentanyl pills that are manufactured by the Mexican Cartels.”

The occupants of the car were identified by their Sinaloa I.D. cards, troopers said. Sinaloa is a state in northwest Mexico known in-part for a drug-trafficking cartel with the same name.

Jorge Luis Acuna Gastelum was charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute meth.

Luis Gerardo Palafox Velazquez was charged with one count of illegal reentry of a removed alien. Immigration records show he has been deported twice before, the affidavit states.

Additional federal charges may be added later through grand jury indictment.

Acuna and Palafox told investigators they were going to Kansas City for work. But the men did not have work contacts in Kansas City and said they did not know anyone there. They then declined to answer additional questions.

Meth prices rise with COVID travel restrictions

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s annual statistics show the 25 pounds of meth seized by troopers had a street value of about $125,000. The black market economics of illegal drugs have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic decreasing supply.

The price for purchasing methamphetamine on the street drastically dropped from 2014 to 2019 due to the increased production and importation of Mexican methamphetamine,” the KBI’s 2020 report states. “Due to this increased availability of imported methamphetamine, the demand for domestically produced methamphetamine has declined. In 2020 travel restrictions enacted by governments during the pandemic reduced the availability of methamphetamine and increased the price paid by consumers.”

Meth now sells for about $5,000 per pound in Kansas, up from as little as $3,000 a year ago. In 2014, a pound was worth as much as $15,000.

The KBI’s annual drug statistics do not include prices for black tar heroin or fentanyl.

A pound of black tar heroin at the border is worth nearly $86,000, according to Border Patrol agents after a November bust in Texas. When seized at the Arizona-Mexico border, a pound of fentanyl pills has an estimated value of about $14,500, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection news release from November.

The drugs seized from the Honda’s gas tank were worth about $225,000 combined.

The DEA has reported that 2 milligrams of fentanyl is a lethal dose for most people. The pound of pills seized in the Feb. 17 traffic stop would equate to nearly 227,000 lethal doses, if all of the weight were fentanyl.