Over two pounds of cocaine seized on Interstate 180
By PHILIP A. HOLMES
WILLIAMSPORT — In what could be one of the biggest drug busts in the county’s history, state police seized an estimated $100,000 worth of cocaine stored in a hidden compartment inside an SUV during a traffic stop for alleged speeding Tuesday on Interstate 180 in the city.
Arrested on one-felony count of possession with intent to deliver cocaine was Franklin Mejia, who has prior arrests for drug trafficking, police said.
Mejia, who turns 48 next week, of Paterson, New Jersey, was stopped on Intertstate 180 West, near the Route 15 north exit, just before 9 a.m for traveling 80 mph in a 55 mph speed zone, police said.
An estimated two pounds of cocaine were found in a specially designed compartment under the front seats only after police had the 2016 Nissan Rogue towed to the barracks in Montoursville.
“It’s a great (bust),” one veteran cop told the Sun-Gazette on Wednesday afternoon. “Probably one of the largest in the county.”
When Mejia was stopped initially, he “voluntarily offered his consent (for police) to search the vehicle at least two separate times,” Trooper Robert Williamson, who made the stop, said in an affidavit.
The driver told the trooper he was traveling from New Jersey to Rochester, New York, police said.
Mejia was “not able to properly identify the vehicle’s registered owner,” and when the trooper ran a background check on him, he learned Mejia had “a criminal history, including drug trafficking from New Jersey,” according to the affidavit.
Williamson said that within minutes after the search began, he spotted “a fabricated welded metal box, a hidden compartment,” that extended under both front seats of the SUV.
The search was immediately stopped and the vehicle was towed to the barracks, where troopers accessed the hidden compartment only “by powering wiring that was connected to the compartment,” Williamson said.
A battery power pack powered the wiring, which released the latches to both front seats, Williamson explained.
“The front seats rolled back on some hinges, allowing access to the compartment,” where troopers found three packages “wrapped in plastic wrap inside a garbage bag,” the trooper added. Inside the bag were 2.1 pounds of a controlled substance that tested positive for cocaine, police said.
At the vehicle stop, the driver “was confident that police would never find the drugs,” another veteran officer told the Sun-Gazette. The officer, who did not take part in the stop, said, “I’ve never seen two pounds of cocaine” come from one, single incident.
Vehicles for some time have “been (specifically) designed to secretly transport drugs, firearms, contraband, anything that (the persons involved) don’t want the police to find,” the officer said.
Mejia was arraigned before District Judge Jon E. Kemp. During the proceedings, police told the judge Mejia had a history of drug trafficking and he was considered a “flight risk.” He was committed to the Lycoming County Prison without bail.