More than 500 pounds of pot seized in Whitfield County

More than 500 pounds of pot seized in Whitfield County

September 14th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

Authorities seized over 500 pounds of marijuana, guns, a BMW and more than $14,000 in cash after raiding a Whitfield County home on Monday.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Florentino Hernandez-Padron, 41, is charged with trafficking in marijuana.

Benjamin Lopez-Zapata, 46, is charged with trafficking in marijuana.

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.