Kilos from a coke bust
Just after midnight on November 17, Oceanside police officer D.K. Williams was cruising through the parking lot of the Denny’s restaurant at 487 Harbor Drive when he noticed an expired registration tag on the license plate of a Mitsubishi Endeavor SUV. As the driver was attempting to leave, Officer Williams pulled him over.
The driver, identified as Ricardo Lujan, age 44, the car’s registered owner from San Ysidro, “appeared nervous and agreed to a search of his vehicle,” said Kathleen Vincent, spokesperson for the Oceanside Police Department.
Officer Williams called for back-up. A Border Patrol K-9 search unit arrived from the San Clemente ICE checkpoint. The dog alerted the officers to the odor of narcotics.
Agents from the DEA and San Diego's multi-agency Narcotics Task Force were called in. In a search of the vehicle, officers found 89.5 kilograms of cocaine and 68.9 kilos of methamphetamine in 157 vacuum-sealed packages hidden in the car’s floorboards, door panels, and center console. The trove of drugs has since been valued at $2.1 million.
If found guilty of intent to distribute, based on the quantity found, Lujan could receive a minimum ten-year sentence in federal prison. However a San Diego–based federal defense attorney, Michael Littman, who often represents defendants accused of trafficking, says, “If he has no prior arrests I could probably get it reduced to three to four years.”
That is, Littman says, if the feds can prove their case. “They have to prove that he knew the drugs were in the car,” he said. “That would be a good defense, that he didn’t know.”
Based on some of his prior cases, Littman speculated the feds might have been tracking the large shipment through wiretaps and other intelligence. “They often call out a traffic officer to make the initial stop,” he said.
If found guilty, what would the drug cartel do to the man who lost $2.1 million in drugs, either in prison or once he gets out? “Nothing. It’s a cost of doing business. Next,” said Littman, referring to the drug cartels already having the next guy lined up for the next shipment.
“The guys that run drugs north take the most risk for the least reward,” said Littman. “But driving with expired tags, that’s just stupidity.”