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58 pounds of marijuana seized

W.Va. man in jail

December 17, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Ridgeway, W.Va., man is in custody in Virginia following what authorities called the largest marijuana seizure in Berkeley County since 1996, police said Friday.

Jose Guadalupe Echartea, 35, who lived along Sam Mason Road near Ridgeway, is being held on $150,000 bond in the Clarke, Frederick, Winchester Adult Detention Center in Winchester, Va., according to Sgt. Joseph Dove, spokesman for the jail. He is charged with possession with intent.

Although Echartea has been in custody since Nov. 26, his arrest was disclosed Friday at a press conference at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department. Authorities said they withheld announcement of the arrest pending testing to confirm the contraband seized was marijuana.

Police found 38 pounds of marijuana in a car and a mobile home where Echartea lived. An additional 20 pounds was seized by Virginia police during a controlled buy in Clearbrook, Va. authorities said.

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"We had no idea there was this much marijuana for sale in Berkeley County. Since I have been a police officer, this is probably one of the bigger marijuana busts I have come across," Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald Jones said at the press conference.

The 38 pounds of marijuana seized in West Virginia, which was in a brick-like form, was laid out across a long table in the sheriff's department. Each brick was about 4 inches thick and about a foot long.

The estimated street value of the marijuana was $70,000, Jones said.

Deputies found the marijuana with assistance from the West Virginia State Police.

On Nov. 26, police in Front Royal, Va., contacted the sheriff's department and notified them of a controlled drug purchase they were conducting in Clearbrook, Va., just south of the West Virginia line, Jones said.

During the purchase, police found 20 pounds of marijuana in the suspect's car, Jones said.

Virginia police received permission from the man to search his mobile home near Ridgeway, which is along U.S. 11 south near the West Virginia and Virginia line, Jones said.

Berkeley County Sheriff's deputies found three more pounds of marijuana in a closet in the mobile home, and a police dog led by Trooper Jason Laing found 35 pounds of the drug in the trunk of another car, according to Jones.

No charges have been filed against Echartea in West Virginia, Jones said. Jones said investigators will meet with Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely to see how she may want to proceed in the case.

Jones said it is unknown where the suspect was getting the marijuana or how long it was being sold.

It was the largest amount of marijuana deputies have seized since 1996, when about 80 pounds were found in a storage building along U.S. 11 north of Martinsburg, Jones said.

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