DADE CITY — When Marcus Torres-Perez was pulled over in September by a trooper on State Road 56 in Wesley Chapel, the least interesting thing found on him was a Baggie of marijuana.
A black canvas bag stashed under the seat of the Ford Taurus contained $20,000 in cash, authorities say. The money was arranged in four stacks of $5,000, bound with rubber bands in $1,000 increments.
The glove box had suspicious looking wires running out of it. Trooper Jason Lemery, who specializes in drug investigations, knew that meant there was probably a "trap" inside the car — a rigged compartment to hide drugs. This one turned out to be under the passenger's side airbag, Lemery said. Inside: another $20,000, also in $5,000 stacks, also bound with rubber bands, plus a kilogram of powder cocaine.
Torres-Perez, who lives in Orlando, told Lemery he knew nothing of that. He was carrying cash, he said, because he was looking to purchase landscaping equipment, although he couldn't say what kind or brand.
Torres-Perez, 31, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and trafficking in cocaine. His trial started Thursday.
His attorney, Dino Michaels, told jurors that his client is guilty of marijuana possession. But trafficking cocaine, the state can't prove that, Michaels said.
The car wasn't owned by Torres-Perez, Michaels said. Nothing inside it had his name on it.
"There's no evidence that any fingerprints belonging to Mr. Torres-Perez had anything to do with that (airbag) area," he said. "There's no evidence of knowledge on the part of Mr. Torres-Perez of any sort."
The law officers who testified Thursday said that's what they've come to expect in narcotics cases. The owners of the drug-running cars aren't the ones driving them.
Two Homeland Security agents started tracking Torres-Perez on Sept. 1 in Summerfield, a small town in Marion County. They followed him in an unmarked car to an apartment complex in Carrollwood, they said. He went inside for about 20 minutes with a black bag, then came out and started driving back north.
The federal agents enlisted Trooper Lemery to conduct a traffic stop. Torres-Perez was pulled over for following too closely and having car windows tinted too darkly.
A video played for jurors illustrates the traffic stop. As Lemery and Torres-Perez are talking at the hood of Lemery's car, a trooper with a drug-sniffing dog comes into the picture. Torres-Perez is just beginning to talk about his hunt for landscaping tools when the dog, in the background, sniffs around the Taurus and begins jumping and barking.
Soon, Torres-Perez is in handcuffs.
The trial is expected to wrap up today.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mollymoorhead.