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Feds take over marijuana hauling case

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Two of three suspects arrested after Carroll deputies found 313 pounds of marijuana hidden away in a tractor-trailer now face federal charges.

Carroll deputies and a Virginia State Police trooper in March searched a suspicious tractor-trailer parked at the Kangaroo Express on Virginia 148 in Fancy Gap.

They found inside 313 pounds of marijuana packaged in mustard and coffee grounds.

Deputies also found two men in the trailer after talking to the driver, and the drug dog alerted on the trailer.

The authorities found inside the trailer "panels of aluminum with approximately four inches of Styrofoam insulation between the sections."

The 28 packages of marijuana they retrieved made this Carroll's "biggest bust in transporting marijuana" in recent memory, officers said.

Deputies investigating the case seized a 2009 Dodge Nitro, a 2005 Freightliner tractor, a 53-foot refrigerated trailer and $1,600 in cash.

The trailer also had different kinds of produce in it, such as lettuce and broccoli, deputies said.

Charged were:

• Mario Martinez-Casillas, 30, of Whittier, Cal. — possession with intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana and transport illegal narcotics into Virginia.

• Ramon Santiago Sanchez, 42, of Ore. — possession with intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana and breaking and entering a motor vehicle.

• Ramiro Esparza-Ibanez, 30, no address given — possession with intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana and breaking and entering of a motor vehicle.

But now the state charges against Martinez and Esparza-Ibanez have been dropped in favor of the men being prosecuted in federal court.

Both have been named in a three-count indictment in the federal court, alleging conspiracy to distribute marijuana and distribution of marijuana, according to court paperwork from the U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

It is not clear why federal officials chose just two of the three charged by Carroll deputies in this case.

"The federal authorities have assumed jurisdiction in those two cases," Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Goad confirmed Tuesday.