A routine traffic stop by a Bedminster Township police officer last week led to one of the largest drug seizures in Bucks and Lehigh counties in recent memory, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub announced Thursday.
According to a news release by Weintraub’s office, Ofc. James Zukow was on patrol when he observed a Jeep swerve over a fog line four times, stopped its driver and asked for the man’s consent to search the vehicle.
After Christian Ochoa, 28, of Laredo, Texas, consented to the search, police say they discovered a kilogram of heroin-fentanyl and nine kilograms of cocaine.
Police have put the estimated street value of those drugs at $1.2 million, and said their discovery led to still more narcotics stashed inside the cab of a tractor-trailer owned by Ochoa that was parked at a truck stop in Upper Macungie Township, Lehigh County.
According to Weintraub, K-9 Baron of the Central Bucks Regional Police Department alerted to the presence of narcotics in the cab of the “Ochoa Transport Services” truck “where detectives found nine more kilograms of heroin/fentanyl valued at $2.7 million.”
In addition to the heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, the two searches allegedly turned up more than $43,000 in cash, a handgun, six cell phones, approximately $29,000 in Percocet pills and other drugs.
Weintraub said police also confiscated four Jesus Malverde candles.
Malverde, a Robin Hood-type figure in Mexico who was born in 1870 and died in 1909, has come to be “known as the patron saint of narco-traffickers,” the district attorney said.
In addition to Ochoa, a passenger in the Jeep who was identified as Edith Tomasa Rodriguez Cardenas, 27, of Huntington Park, Calif., is also facing charges related to the seizure, which authorities said could result in additional arrests.
Weintraub said his office’s investigation revealed that Ochoa allegedly drove the drugs across the country and was likely just “passing through” Bucks County–possibly on his way to New York–when he was stopped by Zukow Jan. 29.
Authorities said they believe the pair may be part of a larger drug trafficking ring.
Ochoa and Rodriguez Cardenas have both been charged in the initial traffic stop with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, possession of a small amount of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Both were arraigned by District Judge Michael W. Petrucci and sent to the Bucks County Correctional Facility under $1 million bail each.
The case has been investigated by detectives with the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office Drug Strike Force, Bedminster Township Police, Dublin Borough Police, Pennsylvania State Police, Doylestown Township Police, Upper Macungie Township Police and Central Bucks Regional Police with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office.
It is assigned for prosecution to Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Megan Stricker.
Charges in Lehigh County against Ochoa and Rodriguez Cardenas are pending.
“As you all know, we are in the midst of a twin pandemic,” Weintraub said during a news conference about the arrests. “We were already in a pandemic before we heard the word COVID-19 and that is the drug scourge that we’ve been battling for years, and as a result of the COVID pandemic, drug overdoses are up.”
The bust that began with an observant patrol officer’s actions may have “saved somebody else a lot of heartache and pain,” he noted.