By Gabrielle Porter
Monday, September 25, 2017
A Mesa County sheriff’s deputy was driving south on 29 Road in Fruitvale Saturday afternoon with his window down when he smelled something fishy.
The patrol deputy, who was not working with the Western Colorado Drug Task Force, had pulled up behind a white Penske moving truck with Indiana plates when — from inside his own vehicle — he caught a whiff of fresh marijuana, the deputy wrote in an arrest affidavit.
After pulling the driver over on a speeding violation, the deputy approached the truck and found the smell “overwhelming.” He asked driver Sinh Chan Hoang, a 53-year-old Mandarin speaker whose address was listed in California, if there was any marijuana in the truck.
“Yes,” Hoang replied, according to the deputy’s report. “Just a little.”
When the deputy asked to see, Hoang agreed, opening the truck’s overhead door and pulling out a large black plastic trash bag. He ripped a hole in it with his fingers and pulled out the marijuana buds inside.
“It’s just a little bit,” Hoang repeated, according to the deputy. “I can throw it out.”
A “little” turned out to be quite a lot.
Deputies who searched the truck turned up what might be a record-breaking haul of fresh marijuana buds: 3,100 pounds in 87 trash bags. A Mesa County prosecutor said Monday that the amount would be more than 700 pounds once dried, and would retail at more than $1 million on the street.
Hoang and his 49-year-old passenger, Larry Tran of Rosemead, California, gave deputies different stories about how they knew each other. Both were arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, a class one drug felony.
Mesa County sheriff’s spokeswoman Megan Terlecky said it’s hard to compare product seizure with large-scale illegal grows, like a grow recently seized by local and federal authorities on a pair of Colorado River islands in De Beque Canyon. But, she said, nobody she spoke to in her department Monday afternoon could remember any larger product seizure.
“In terms of just the drugs, this is by far the biggest ... that anybody’s aware of,” Terlecky said.
During interactions with law enforcement, Hoang allegedly said he was hired to drive the truck. He said he picked the vehicle up in Pleasant View, north of Cortez in Montezuma County, and that somebody else loaded the fresh buds.
“When he arrived (at an unknown place Hoang said he was directed to come), they started putting bags in the back of the truck and Sinh told them no,” the deputy wrote, relating his conversation with Hoang, who was speaking in broken English. “He then said, ‘They say kill me.’ I asked him if someone threatened to kill him. He paused, looked away from me and said, ‘No, just kidding.’”
A rental agreement in the truck said it was rented at 11:53 a.m. Friday in Pleasant View and was supposed to be returned at 11:53 a.m. Saturday.
The traffic stop occurred just after 1 p.m. Saturday.
Both men appeared in Mesa County Court Monday afternoon, where Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Hand asked a judge to hold them on high cash-only bonds.
Public Defender Clinton Knorpp asked for a personal-recognizance bond for Tran, who he said has no criminal history and has lived in the same California house for years.
Public Defender Scott Troxell said he didn’t know much about Hoang, who was unable to communicate with pre-trial services staff without an interpreter. Troxell asked for a surety bond.
Mesa County Judge Bruce Raaum declined, and set both men’s bonds at $100,000 cash-only.
He ordered them each to return to court at 8:15 a.m. Friday before District Judge Valerie Robison.