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Traffic stops lead to drug arrests

Two minor traffic violations on Interstate 75 Thursday evening led to three drug-related arrests and netted more than 120 pounds of marijuana, officials say.

Lt. Don Smith, vice and narcotics detective for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said the arrests were a result of an ongoing investigation in cooperation with agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The drugs, worth an estimated $150,000, were not destined to be distributed in Pasco County, Smith said. "I don't know where the drugs were going," he said, "but it's safe to assume they were just passing through."

The arrests were made at an I-75 rest area about 2 miles north of the Hillsborough County line, Smith said. Jesus Garcia-Torres and Rodrigo Maldonado were driving in a Chevrolet pickup when deputies pulled them over for allowing plastic trash bags and other debris to fall from the truck, according to Sheriff's Office reports.

A computer records check showed that Garcia-Torres, who was driving, had no Florida driver's license. A search of the truck revealed 5.5 pounds of marijuana in a duffel bag that Maldonado said was his, the reports state. A drug-sniffing dog also found five 3-pound bundles of marijuana stashed in a spare tire _ a total of 20.5 pounds.

Moments after the first incident, deputies stopped a second vehicle for speeding. The driver, Martin Orosco, was reportedly driving 77 mph in a 65 mph zone. A search of Orosco's Chevrolet Astro van revealed four cardboard banana boxes containing a total of 10 individually wrapped packages _ a combined weight of 103.8 pounds, according to the reports.

Maldonado is from Palmetto; Garcia-Torres from McAllen, Texas; and Orosco from Independence, La. All are Mexican citizens, the reports state.

Maldonado and Garcia-Torres face charges of possession. Orosco is charged with trafficking. All three were being held Friday at the Central Pasco Detention Center in Land O'Lakes, each in lieu of $50,000 bail.

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