10/22/2007

Car switch tips Chicago unit to massive drug bust

Bust nets $1 million in drugs, $378,000 in cash
 
By Josh Noel
The Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — One of the year's largest drug busts in Chicago, netting more than $1 million in cocaine and marijuana, came together for police in less than a day, officials said Sunday.

With the result spread across several tables -- more than 40 resealable bags bulging with marijuana, five bricks and several bags of cocaine, and more than $378,000 in cash -- Lt. Eric Carter of the narcotics and gang investigation unit said the arrest began about 8 p.m. Friday when police saw Oswaldo Sanchez, 25, switching cars with a group of men.

Car switching is a common practice during large drug deals, police said.

Carter said officers followed Sanchez to his home in the 2100 block of North Lockwood Avenue. After driving into his garage, Sanchez returned to the men and again switched cars, Carter said. Police would not say where the cars were exchanged.

Police then approached, and a German shepherd named Britt detected the scent of drugs on the vehicles, police said. Officers searched the cars and found empty hidden compartments in both, Carter said.

Sanchez consented to a search of his home, where officers found more than 43 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $122,000 and 7 kilograms of cocaine -- more than 15 pounds -- worth an estimated $932,000, police said. The drugs were found at several locations in the home and garage, they said.

Police also allegedly recovered five handguns and drug-packaging paraphernalia, including scales and shrink-wrapping equipment.

Based on the quantity of drugs and the way they were packaged, Sanchez is believed to have been supplying dealers rather than users, said Sgt. John Hamilton of the organized crime division.

Police rarely recover large amounts of cocaine and marijuana in the same bust, he said.

"Usually one cell within an organization will handle cocaine, and another will handle weed," Hamilton said. "But every organization is different."

He said Sanchez's arrest was the product of a "very short-term investigation."

In Bond Court Sunday, Cook County Judge Laura Sullivan ordered Sanchez held on $250,000 bail. He is charged with two drug counts and possession of a firearm without valid registration.

He provided police a handwritten statement, Assistant State's Atty. Bill Reardon said in court.

Police said the investigation is continuing. Though the people with whom Sanchez switched cars have been released, they could face charges, Hamilton said.

Copyright 2007 Chicago Tribune Company

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