On June 12, a Maryland trooper stopped a motorist for speeding on the John F. Kennedy Highway and to his surprise found 71.5 pounds of cocaine in the trunk of the Cadillac.
The search of the vehicle took place after the trooper found suspected cocaine on a drivers license that the man had apparently been using as a tool to cut and shape lines of the illegal substance.
That seizure was the largest last year by troopers who patrol the state's highways with one eye for traffic violators and another for motorists who arouse their suspicions as possible drug traffickers. And state police now say they are getting better at it.
In the first half of last year, troopers made 272 fewer stops on major highways, but because of seizures such as that in June the amount of drugs and drug-related cash confiscated on the highways has increased substantially, according to Capt. John P. Cook, of the state police agency's criminal intelligence division.
More than $300,000 in cash was seized in the first six months of 1991, compared with only $74,934 in the first half of 1990.
That money is held in escrow while prosecutors file civil forfeiture actions that, if successful, allow the money to be transferred to the state general fund.
Likewise, the amount of cocaine and crack seized soared from less than 13 pounds in the first half of 1990 to over 90 pounds in the same period last year -- in large part a result of the June arrest.
Troopers also say they seized 11 ounces of the hallucinogen PCP during this period last year. None was taken in 1990.
Small quantities of heroin and methamphetamines were also seizedboth years.
Based on a quick review of drug and money seizures during the last six months of 1991, it appears that the trend is continuing, Captain Cook said.
Although many of the drug and money seizures have taken place in the north-south Interstate 95 corridor, other notable confiscations have occurred on Interstate 81 and Interstate 83, as well as along U.S. Routes 50 and 301, the captain added.
The captain said vehicles used by drug couriers are from almost every East Coast state.
"What this tells us is that there is no pattern," he said. "Drug traffickers, like water, will follow the path of least resistance. We think they are smuggling on all roads."
Computations show that most drug money is being sent north to purchase narcotics in New York City, where there is such an abundance of heroin and cocaine that drug traffickers are seeking other markets and higher prices, police said.
In Baltimore, for example, city police are coping with an influx of young New York drug dealers who have set up operations here, often using local traffickers to sell drugs in the Baltimore markets.
Captain Cook also said it appears that drug traffickers are now sending money and drugs in larger quantities, rather than risking a series of smaller deliveries. And many dealers are using a variety of methods to hide those deliveries.
Troopers have encountered traffickers who have sealed drugs in the steel beams of car carriers, in soft drink cans, in oil cans, in hair spray cans, bowling balls and coat hangers.
"We strongly steer our troopers from standard operating procedures," the captain added. "These fellows [drug traffickers] are in a business. When they find out something is not working they change their marketing strategy."
Troopers can either request that motorists allow them to search a vehicle -- a "consent" search, in legal parlance -- or they have the authority to search a vehicle if they can find sufficient probable cause to believe that the car or truck contains contraband.
Probable cause for a car search can be anything from a marijuana seed in an ashtray, witnessed in plain-view by the trooper, to cocaine traces found on a straight-edged surface.