Article from The Longview News-Journal
By John Lynch

Lawmen who thought they had seen it all saw something new Monday after a routine traffic stop turned up 12 pounds of marijuana, a pistol and more than $6,000. The discovery resulted in the arrests of two Cuban nationals suspected of being in the country illegally.

But it wasn’t the money, contraband, firearm or even potentially illegal aliens that surprised Gregg County sheriff’s deputies — it was the urns filled with strange fluids, sacks of fur, feathers and animal bones, some tied into cross shapes, said Capt. Ken Hartley, sheriff’s spokesman. He said authorities also found books written in Spanish that appeared to be about voodoo or Santeria. Voodoo and Santeria are similar religions practiced mainly in the Caribbean that combine elements of Roman Catholicism with the worship of African tribal gods and involve animal sacrifice.

The items were found after a search of a black 2003 GMC Yukon Denali stopped for speeding by Deputy Tracy Freeman.

According to arrest reports, the sport utility vehicle was stopped for speeding 77 mph in a 70 mph zone about 8:20 a.m.

The driver, 34-year-old Javier Diaz, told the deputy he and his passenger, 25-year-old Osmany Maynet, both of Albuquerque, were heading from New Mexico to Florida, the report said. Diaz didn’t say much more, however, claiming he did not understand much English, according to the report.

Freeman became suspicious after Maynet told him the pair were driving from Arizona to Georgia, according to the report, which notes the SUV has Georgia license plates.

Both men denied any involvement with illegal drugs, the deputy reported, but a check of their criminal histories showed both men had been arrested before on suspicion of drug involvement.

Freeman then asked for permission to search the vehicle, which Diaz agreed to allow, the report shows. During the search, investigators found about 12 pounds of marijuana, divided into a dozen bags that were covered with duct tape, the sheriff’s office reported. Found with the contraband were a loaded .38 caliber handgun, also wrapped in duct tape, and $6,309, which was hidden inside a red and white towel. Duct tape is commonly used by narcotics traffickers to try to mask the scent of drugs from police dogs, the sheriff’s office noted.

The authorities also found the urns, sacks of animal remains and books, but after checking to make sure the materials were not illegal and did not contain human remains, deputies left them in the SUV where they found them, Hartley said.

Hartley said authorities believe the items are used in Santeria rituals because both men are from Cuba, where the religion is very popular. Both men told jailers they were Roman Catholics when they were booked into jail. The SUV has been impounded. The men can get their things back when they get out of jail, but that doesn’t look to be anytime soon.

The pair are held in the Gregg County Jail without bond, charged with felony marijuana possession, felon in possession of a firearm and federal immigration detainer. They will be turned over to federal immigration officials after the drug charges are resolved.

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