Metro-East News

Driver was nervous, sweaty, trooper said. The U-Haul held nearly 175 lbs. of suspect pot.

Jesus Duarte
Jesus Duarte

An Arizona man is facing felony charges after an Illinois State Police trooper allegedly found nearly 175 pounds of cannabis in a U-Haul truck.

Jesus O. Duarte, 36, was charged with four felony counts on Dec. 22, including Class X charges of unlawful cannabis trafficking, unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver and armed violence. He also was charged with unlawful use of weapons by a felon.

According to court documents, Duarte was traveling north on Interstate 55 near mile marker 11 in Madison County on Dec. 8 when he was pulled over by an Illinois State Police trooper during a routine traffic stop. The trooper was on patrol and noticed a mid-size U-Haul with a single occupant pass his location. The trooper saw the truck swerve across the right fog line twice.

The trooper approached the passenger side of the truck and spoke with Duarte. The trooper noticed Duarte experience signs of “extreme stress and anxiety,” according to a report made Special Agent Dave Baybordi of the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois.

The trooper asked Duarte his trip itinerary. Duarte said he was in the process of moving to Fort Wayne, Ind., from Tuscon, Ariz. Duarte told the trooper that his girlfriend and child were leaving from Arizona the following day. Duarte said he had never been to Indiana before and was following his GPS which brought him through the area.

The trooper gave Duarte a written warning for the traffic violations and continued to monitor Duarte’s behavior. Duarte told the trooper that he was responsible for all of the contents inside the U-Haul and that he packed the vehicle by himself.

While he was writing the warning ticket, the trooper asked for a Collinsville Police Department K-9 unit to respond to the scene. While the K-9 unit was on its way, the trooper asked Duarte if he was “good to go” and shook his hand. The trooper said Duarte’s hand was extremely sweaty. At that point, the trooper suspected Duarte was concealing a criminal act, according to court documents.

The trooper asked for permission to search the U-Haul, which Duarte allowed. Before searching the U-Haul, the trooper waited for the K-9 unit to arrive. The K-9 arrived at 10:08 a.m. and detected the presence of a narcotic odor coming from the truck.

After that alert, officers searched the U-Haul and came across two cabinets. Officers found 35 vacuum-sealed bags of suspected cannabis that weighted 173.8 pounds. Officers also recovered a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun with a full box of ammunition, which contained 50 rounds, encased and placed alongside the cabinets that contained the cannabis.

On Monday, investigators asked for a search warrant to access the contents of Duarte’s cellphone that was seized by police at the scene.

Duarte was being held Tuesday in the Madison County Jail on $500,000 bail. If convicted, Duarte could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison on each of the Class X charges. His next scheduled court appearance is on Jan. 17.

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND