On April 29, 1986, Trooper Phil Barney, patrolling State Highway 89 south of Salina, stopped a 1979 Cadillac for a traffic violation. Upon approach to the vehicle he smelled a heavy odor of perfume or room deodorizer. The driver and passenger appeared extremely nervous. The suspects consented to a search of the vehicle. Trooper Barney noticed some alterations on the paneling on either side of the back seat. Upon removing the paneling, he discovered 20 kilos (44.5 pounds) of pure cocaine.
These discoveries were the springboard to dozens of subsequent drug busts on what was later dubbed “Cocaine Lane.” Troopers realized that Utah is a crossroad for the transportation of illegal drugs. Many drug couriers had been operating for years without detection. The Utah Highway Patrol was determined to learn where, when, and how these drugs were moving through Utah.
The Patrol turned to a neighboring state for many of the answers. Captain John Cartwright attended several Four State Peace Officers Association meetings. Through these contacts, he learned of several major drug arrests by the New Mexico State Police on Interstate 40. This project was known as “Operation Pipeline” by the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Captain Cartwright contacted the New Mexico State Police and requested that a veteran officer with expertise in these cases come to Utah and teach Utah troopers about thier program. The New Mexico State Police sent Sergeant Jeff. S. Faison.
Sergeant Faison taught a one day class in Price, Utah, on March 20, 1986. During the previous five years, Sergeant Faison had made 11 cocaine seizures totaling over 300 pounds. He had made numerous marijuana seizures which totaled over 4,200 pounds. His currency seizures totaled over $550,000. His tactics were straight forward and appeared to be too simple – enforce all traffic laws, look past the initial traffic stop for evidence of criminal activity, ask for consent to search for illegal drugs, and know where drug smugglers hide drugs in vehicles.
Utah troopers were anxious to put this knowledge to use and to begin their own “Operation Pipeline.” Following this class, troopers on Interstate 70 made major drug arrests every month during 1986.
A decision was made to organize a major roadblock on Interstate 70. On November 19, 1986, a roadblock was established at milepost 121. Within the first hour, a hidden compartment was located and the contents revealed – $531,000. Drug dealers who transport large quantities of illegal drugs also transport the proceeds from the sale of these drugs in the same compartments. This was the largest cash seizure in the history of Utah. At almost the exact same time, a second hidden compartment was located on a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. Troopers discovered $32,000 in that vehicle. This roadblock again proved that large volumes of drugs and the cash proceeds thereof were being transported by private vehicles through Utah.
It was decided to intercept these drugs at the border. On January 28, 1987, a roadblock was established on Interstate 15 at the St. George Port of Entry. A search of one vehicle produced cocaine, hashish, and $10,000. A second stop netted 460 pounds of marijuana.
The administration organized intensive training in criminal interdiction tactics for all troopers. During February 1987, officers who had excelled in criminal interdiction were flown to Utah from New Mexico, New Jersey, and Louisiana. Every trooper attended training at Peace Officer Standards and Training. Again, the benefits of this training produced immediate results.
During the next few months seizures and arrests began to happen on all interstate systems throughout the state. The first year of “Operation Pipeline” generated 32 incidents resulting in the seizure of illegal drugs with a street value somewhere between 15 and 70 million dollars. During the first quarter of 1987, UHP drug seizures placed Utah second in the nation, only behind New Jersey, in total highway cocaine seizures. Utah marijuana seizures ranked sixth in the nation for the same period.
Trooper Richard L. Haycock and Trooper G. Steve Rapich compiled a training manual called “Criminal Interdiction Through Traffic Enforcement.” This manual explains the interdiction concept, analysis of applicable search and seizure law, and an overview of identifiable characteristics produced by active criminals. Motivated troopers learned to recognize and document subtle indicators of criminal activity during routine traffic stops.
By October 1987, the Utah Highway Patrol had become a leader in the nation in the interception of illegal drugs which are transported by vehicle. The Patrol had recovered 3,500 pounds of marijuana, 432 pounds of cocaine, 1 ounce and 105 vials of hashish, and 124 grams of heroin. The UHP also confiscated $821,000 from alleged and convicted drug dealers and 48 vehicles used in the transportation of narcotics.
On October 1, 1987, Governor Norman H. Bangerter awarded the Utah Highway Patrol the “Governor’s Productivity Award” for 50 record setting drugs busts and an emphasis on drivers’ safety statewide. Governor Bangerter stated, “Over the past year and a half our troopers have developed one of the most successful drug interdiction programs in the nation.” On October 8, 1987, the Utah Peace Officers Association presented a plaque to Colonel Mike Chabries in recognition of the Utah Highway Patrol’s seizure of large quantities of illegal narcotics. The following statistics generated by the Utah Highway Patrol demonstrate the growth of the criminal interdiction program in Utah:
On September 25, 1987, Trooper G. Steve Rapich stopped a Lincoln Continental, westbound on Interstate 70 at milepost 126, for a headlight violation. The male driver produced a California driver license and a registration receipt from the state of Illinois. The driver claimed he recently purchased the vehicle in Illinois. The passenger stated that he had just met the driver in Chicago and had accepted a ride to California. After issuing a warning for the headlight violation, Trooper Rapich asked the driver if he was transporting any firearms or drugs in the vehicle. The driver stated, “No, would you like to look?” Often drug runners will grant officers consent to search because they do no believe the officer will be able to locate hidden compartments.
After removing the back seat, Trooper Rapich located four packages wrapped in duct tape. He confronted the driver and the passenger concerning the packages and they both denied any knowledge of the packages. Removing a portion of duct tape from one of the packages revealed tightly packed bills in various denominations.
The passenger then told Trooper Rapich to just keep the money and turn them loose. Trooper Rapich told the occupants that he would have to make a thorough count of the money and issue them a receipt. Again, the passenger said that it was not their money and they did not want a receipt. A drug detection dog was summoned and immediately alerted on both the currency and the wrappings containing the currency. After three hours of counting, the total amount was determined to be $410,052. The driver and passenger failed to appear at the forfeiture hearing.
On September 21, 1988, Trooper Denis Avery stopped a pickup truck with a camper shell, westbound on Interstate 70 near Salina, for no visible registration. The driver presented Trooper Avery with a temporary vehicle registration that did not match the vehicle. A second occupant exited the camper and Trooper Avery saw what appeared to be a false compartment, hidden by a sheet of plywood and covered with carpet. Upon further investigation, Trooper Avery discovered an extremely large quantity of money, wrapped in bundles of $1s, $5s, $10s, $20s, $50s, and $100s, located under a single sheet of plywood and framed with 2 by 4s. He requested a drug sniffing dog, which immediately “hit” on the money. The money was seized as suspected drug money. A thorough count of the money revealed $1,137,658. During a forfeiture hearing on November 15, 1988, 6th District Judge Don V. Tibbs ruled the state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the money was linked to drug deals. He then ordered the cash returned.
In August 1988, Utah received $435,046.12 from the federal government, which represented the state’s portion of seized drug money. A portion of this money was allocated to the Utah Highway Patrol. From this money troopers were issued portable radios, soft body armor, and other equipment. The state also received two airplanes and several luxury cars, including a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, that were seized from drug dealers. With many victories, a few losses, and new equipment courtesy of drug runners, the Utah Highway Patrol continued the “war on drugs” into the next decade.