KANAB — Two suspects were transferred to federal custody in Washington County following a traffic stop earlier this month in which deputies recovered more than 22 pounds of suspected fentanyl from a vehicle in Kanab.

Stock image | Photo courtesy of the FBI, St. George News

The federal case was filed following a traffic stop that took place on Dec. 8 when a Kane County Sheriff’s Deputy stopped a black Ford Fusion after trailing the car as it headed west along SR-89 near mile marker 58 shortly before 1 a.m.

The car caught the attention of the deputy when a records check revealed one of the occupants, identified as 27-year-old Tomas Eduardo Ibarra, of Taylorsville, had an active warrant for his arrest.

The traffic stop took place in the parking lot of a convenience store on East Fairway Drive in Kanab, according to arrest documents filed with the courts.

The approaching officer noticed two men sitting in the front of the car, while a third man was in the back seat along with a woman next to what appeared to be a one-year-old child in a car seat.

While asked about the warrant attached to the car, the passenger admitted he was Ibarra, then told the officer that the car belonged to his mother. When asked, none of the occupants had any valid ID, other than a passport and identification’s issued out of Mexico, the deputy noted.

File photo of the Kane County Department of Public Safety in Kanab, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

The driver was later identified as Alexis Archuleta Rivas. When backup arrived, including a Spanish interpreter from the Kanab Police Department, the occupants were asked to exit the vehicle.

Archuleta said they had left on Saturday from Arizona to visit the female passenger’s relatives and stayed at a motel, but could not remember the name.

Archuleta also “appeared very nervous,” and said several times that the car belonged to Ibarra, while adding there was nothing illegal in the car. While speaking to Ibarra, the suspect told deputies they had left on Monday and stated they were on vacation.

Meanwhile, a K-9 team responded to assist. After the driver gave consent, the animal was deployed to conduct a free air sniff through the interior of the car, while an agent with Homeland Security Investigations and additional deputies responded to the scene.

When the animal indicated to the possible presence of narcotics, a search of the vehicle ensued. During a search of the trunk, deputies located a black backpack containing seven packages of blue pills that appeared to be fentanyl. 

“These pills were in the trunk but were within approximately two feet of the baby’s car seat,” the deputy wrote. 

Tucked in between the driver’s seat and the center console deputies also found a black machete. And inside the glove box they found two more packages of suspected fentanyl pills. In the purse belonging to the rear passenger, identified as Fernanda Gastelum-Lugo, deputies found $2,000 in cash. Lugo was also determined to be the mother of the child in the car seat.

The toddler was turned over to a social worker that responded from the Utah Division of Children and Family Services and was then taken to a shelter in St. George. All four suspects, including the second backseat passenger, identified as Jaime Martinez, were transported to the Kane County Jail.

Stock image of Department of Homeland Security agents | Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security, St. George News

During a series of interviews conducted at the jail, two of the suspects reportedly admitted to selling fentanyl and told Homeland agents the various drop-off points for the narcotics, while one of the suspects refused to answer questions.

The fourth did not admit to possession of fentanyl. Agents also learned that the female passenger was paid as protection for the trip.

When weighed, nine packages had a combined weight of 22.4 pounds and contained an estimated 100,000 fentanyl pills that were destined for Salt Lake City.

All cash and cellphones were seized by agents who also requested that the suspects be held without bail, based upon the amount of suspected narcotics recovered from the vehicle, and that all occupants appeared to be in the United States illegally.

Additionally, the agent also noted that all four occupants “endangered the child’s safety by traveling with fentanyl in such close proximity to the child,” in addition to reportedly trafficking  large quantities of the drug with a child present.

On Tuesday, the case was picked up by federal prosecutors and a complaint was filed against two of the defendants, Ibarra and Archuleta, by FBI Special Agent Michael Vollmer. Both defendants were charged with one federal count of possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute.

Stock image of Purgatory Correctional Facility near Hurricane, Utah, date unspecified | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The agent stated the case stemmed from a months-long investigation into a drug trafficking organization suspected of selling fentanyl in northern Utah and identified the two as being involved in the organization.

Following the arrest in Kane County, an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent identified both men as being in the country illegally and a hold was placed on the suspects.

On Wednesday, the government filed a request to have both suspects remain in detention based on several factors, including ties to others outside the country and both are facing 10 years or more in federal prison if convicted.

The pair was then transported to jail in Washington County where they remain on a federal hold. No federal charges have been filed against Lugo or Martinez, whose state cases remain open in the courts.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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