Police: Marijuana odor led to K-9 car search in Old Lyme fentanyl case

A public defender representing two men arrested Wednesday after state police said they seized a kilogram of the deadly opioid fentanyl during a traffic stop on Interstate 95 made it clear during the suspects' initial court appearance Thursday in New London Superior Court that the men would be exercising their Fifth Amendment rights.

"I'm putting the state on notice that he is exercising his right to remain silent and does not wish to speak to police," said attorney Jasette A. Henry during consecutive arraignment hearings for Gabri Darlin Javier-Delapaz, 26, and Alcides Rafael Gomez-Alba, 28, both of Providence. Henry was representing the men only for their initial court appearance.

The men were charged with possession of narcotics and possession of more than one ounce of narcotics with intent to sell after troopers said they found a 2.3-pound brick of compressed white powder, suspected to be fentanyl, under the rear seat cushion of a silver Honda Accord. The brick was wrapped in brown tape and was inside a black plastic bag, according to a police report. It had an estimated street value of $1 million, according to the initial news release announcing the arrests.

Members of the Statewide Narcotics Task Force - East, had tracked the Honda from Branford to Old Lyme on Wednesday afternoon after receiving information that two Hispanic men would be transporting a large quantity of illegal drugs from New York through Connecticut, according to the report.

Trooper James Matlock stopped the car just past the Exit 70 off-ramp, and while checking the identification of the two men, reported he could smell the odor of marijuana emanating from the car, according to the report. He asked the driver, Javier-Delapaz, if he had any marijuana in the car, and Javier-Delapaz responded that the men had smoked marijuana earlier. Matlock then requested consent to search the car, which Javier-Delapaz granted, according to the report.

Trooper Nathan S. Charron and his narcotics canine, Hogan, went to the scene, along with Detective Gus Salas, who spoke to the two men in Spanish and said they consented to a search of the car. The men stood outside with troopers Matlock and Scott Wisner while Charron and the Labrador went to work.

During an exterior search, Hogan alerted to the rear of the car, according to the report. Once Charron "deployed" Hogan inside, the dog alerted to the area in front of the glove box and the seam between the upper and lower cushion of the back seat. Salas and Charron searched the car by hand and found the suspected fentanyl under the back seat cushion, according to the report. Javier-Delapaz and Gomez-Alba both said they didn't know what the package was, according to the report. They were arrested and taken to the Troop F barracks in Westbrook for processing.

On Thursday, Judge Ernest Green Jr. read the police report and ruled there was probable cause to prosecute the men on the drug charges. Prosecutor Raphael Bustamante, noting the seriousness of the charges, asked the judge to set high bonds for the men, who had been held overnight in lieu of $500,000 bonds. Green set bond for Javier-Delapaz at $500,000 at set Gomez-Alba's bond at $350,000. He continued the cases to Oct. 5, when they are likely to be transferred to the court where major crimes are tried.

Javier-Delapaz, the driver, is a citizen of the Dominican Republic, according to a court document. Bail Commissioner Christopher Manavas said Javier-Delapaz reported being in the United States for a year and a half and said he works in a market in Providence. Manavas said Javier-Delapaz also has a drug case pending in Massachusetts and that a high bond was appropriate, given the serious nature of the charges.

Gomez-Alba is listed as an American citizen in his court paperwork, but the bail commissioner said Gomez-Alba reported that he is of Dominican descent and recently traveled there on vacation. He told the bail commissioner he has family in the Providence area and is unemployed.

Neither man reported any drug, alcohol or psychological issues or appeared to have criminal records.

k.florin@theday.com

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