FedEx flubs

police deliver

Undercover officers arrest suspect using shipment of pot sent to wrong address

July 05, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey | Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey,Sun reporters

When it absolutely, positively had to get there, someone in Florida used FedEx to ship marijuana to addresses in the Baltimore area. But the shipping company botched one of the deliveries, triggering an undercover operation that led to the arrest of a city man and the seizure of 600 pounds of the drug, police said yesterday.

Police were tipped off when four boxes were mistakenly delivered Tuesday to a Northeast Baltimore resident who opened one and discovered a "large shrink wrapped bundle of a green plant material," charging documents say. City officers and Maryland State Police troopers posed as FedEx employees the next day to snare the intended recipient of the 200-pound shipment.

A search yesterday of two addresses connected to the suspect, Richard Gwatidzo of the 4200 block of Diller Ave., yielded eight more FedEx packages containing nearly 400 pounds of marijuana, police said.

Maj. John Hess, a commander in the city Police Department's Violent Crime Impact Division, whose detectives led the investigation, estimated that marijuana sells for about $1,200 a pound on the street.

Across the country, law enforcement agencies routinely pursue drug dealers who use private shipping companies to move their illicit products or large amounts of cash across state lines. The Baltimore Police Department has a small unit of officers - known as the "parcel interdiction group" - who focus on "incoming and outgoing" parcels in Baltimore, Hess said.

"This year has been incredible, between marijuana, heroin and cash seizures," he said.

Shipping companies regularly cooperate with police and allow detectives to pose as their workers, according to news reports.

"We don't tolerate the illegal use of our network," said Matt Ceniceros, a FedEx spokesman. "When it is suspected that our network is abused, we work with the proper authorities to make sure it stops."

Police charging documents lay out the details of the marijuana-mailing mishap.

On Tuesday, two city police officers responded to an undisclosed address in Northeast Baltimore where a resident showed them four FedEx packages. One was open and contained suspected marijuana. The resident, who was not identified by police, was expecting FedEx packages, but not ones filled with marijuana, according to the documents.

"As the officers entered the residence, they immediately detected an odor that they knew to be marijuana," the documents state.

Officers confiscated the packages and took them back to the Northeastern District station for processing. The opened box weighed 38 pounds, while the others weighed in at 45, 55 and and 60 pounds - for a total of 198 pounds.

Looking for help on the case, the officers contacted a city detective who serves on Baltimore's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area federal task force. Later that day, they tried to deliver the packages but were unsuccessful, the documents state.

The next day, a man who claimed to be the intended recipient of the packages called FedEx to ask about the status of his delivery. But a state trooper - posing as a FedEx employee - picked up the phone. The man told the trooper that his packages had not been delivered. The trooper told him they would arrive later that same day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., police charging documents state.

About 2 p.m., a city police detective posing as a FedEx delivery truck driver pulled up in front of the address marked on the package: an office in the 3400 block of Belair Road.

As the detective stepped out of the truck holding one of the four packages, a man approached, stopped him and said: "That's my box," according to police. The man signed the FedEx receipt and then turned to walk away. A team of officers waiting in cars nearby swooped in and arrested him, according to police charging documents.

Gwatidzo, 30, was charged Thursday with possession of a large quantity of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, along with other drug-related charges. He is being held at the Central Booking and Intake Center on $1 million bail.

Police served search and seizure warrants at two addresses - the T. Ryan Art Institute in the 3400 block of Belair Road and a residence in the 10200 block of S. Dolfield Road in Owings Mills - where Gwatidzo allegedly received large packages of marijuana via two FedEx shipments recently, Hess said. In total, detectives seized eight more boxes that contained 398 pounds of marijuana from those locations, Hess said.

More charges could be lodged against Gwatidzo, including federal criminal sanctions, said Hess, who also credited Baltimore County police and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration with working quickly together on the case.

The packages were shipped by someone in Pembroke Pines, Fla., Hess said. Pembroke Pines is a small community north of Miami. Investigators are working to determine the identity of the sender, he said.

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