$5.5 million in ecstasy, pot seized at N.Y. border bridge

By Dan Herbeck
The Buffalo News, NY

Drugs with an estimated street-sale value of $5.5 million were seized Thursday from a truck that was hauling steel plating over the Peace Bridge into the United States, federal officials said.

Sixty pounds of the club drug Ecstasy and 1,136 pounds of hydroponic marijuana were found in large trash bags and vacuum-sealed plastic bags hidden among the legitimate freight, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said.

Truck driver Terrence Helstern, 51, from Barrie, Ont., was charged with felony counts of importing and possessing a controlled substance.

After Helstern claimed he was hauling a load of steel plating to Ohio, a gamma ray scanning device was used to examine his truck, and that examination helped federal officers spot the drugs, Agent Kevin Corsaro said.

According to police, some outlaw trucking firms have been greatly increasing their profits by accepting payments as high as $10,000 to smuggle drug shipments within their legal cargo. Authorities said organized crime groups are involved in some of the smuggling.

Corsaro said the investigation is continuing, adding that it is too early to speculate whether the latest smuggling incident has ties to organized crime or any outlaw trucking outfit.

The arrest was the latest in a series of recent large drug busts at international bridges in Buffalo and Niagara County. On Oct. 10, a Canadian man was arrested after an inspector found 103,000 Ecstasy tablets hidden in his car at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.

"We don't really know why we've been seeing so many incidents lately," Corsaro said. "Sometimes you might speculate that it's harvest time, but with hydroponic pot, it's grown indoors and it's always harvest time."

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