Florentino Hernandez-Padron, 41, is charged with trafficking in marijuana.Contributed Photo
Benjamin Lopez-Zapata, 46, is charged with trafficking in marijuana.Contributed Photo
DALTON, Ga. — Authorities seized more than 500 pounds of marijuana worth nearly $1 million, guns, a BMW and more than $14,000 in cash Monday in a Whitfield County home raid.
Florentino Hernandez-Padron, 41, and Benjamin Lopez-Zapata, 46, were arrested after authorities intercepted a large package of marijuana shipped from Brownsville, Texas, to Ringgold, Ga. Both men are charged with trafficking in marijuana and are being held without bond, authorities said.
Capt. Rick Swiney with the Whitfield County Sheriff's Department called the action "a very substantial seizure."
"It's hard to say how it compares to what we usually take in a year -- some years we don't get as much and some years we get lucky," Swiney said.
The marijuana would have sold on the street for about $800,000 to $1 million, he said.
The investigation that led to the bust began in Brownsville last week when narcotics detection dogs indicated a large package at a UPS center might contain drugs. The package was addressed to a Whitfield County resident.
When officials opened the package, they found 270 pounds of marijuana inside. U.S. Customs agents contacted Whitfield authorities and began a joint investigation.
Customs agents flew the package to the UPS Freight Center in Ringgold on Sunday. Monday morning, officers watched as two men picked up the package.
Hernandez-Padron and Lopez-Zapata were arrested after they took the package back to their home at 1053 Dawnville Road, authorities said.
When officers searched the brick house and surrounding area, they found 237 pounds of marijuana in an outbuilding. They also seized several guns, a 1999 BMW and $14,580 in cash.
Authorities believe the marijuana smuggling operation in Whitfield County began less than six months ago, Swiney said. Hernandez-Padron, who is originally from Brownsville, came to the area to organize and coordinate the shipments, he said.
Hernandez-Padron had received two previous shipments of 250 to 300 pounds each, Swiney said.
He said the drugs likely were distributed primarily in the Atlanta area.
The Tunnel Hill Police Department, the Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force and the Georgia State Patrol assisted in the investigation.
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...