Herald News (Passaic County, NJ)
December 3, 2008 Wednesday
Cop's know-how helped stop shipment of speed
By Heather Haddon

He was on duty anyway, but two decades of pulling over truckers for drug trafficking made Corporal Joe Petrocelli a good pick for stopping a big narcotics shipment Monday.

Petrocelli executed the bust of 165 pounds of crystal methamphetamine as it traveled east on Route 80.

The Passaic County Sheriff's officer carried out the arrest on behalf of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The bust is considered the largest seizure of the highly addictive drug in New Jersey.

"It was a great investigation, and they were nice enough to include me in it," said Petrocelli, 45, a mild-mannered Clifton resident.
At 8 a.m., Petrocelli was an hour into his shift when the department received word of a rig carrying large quantities of crystal methamphetamine on Route 80. Petrocelli, an instructor on vehicle drug seizures, was given the license plate number and told to make the stop.

Beforehand, Petrocelli played out the stop in his head. He wanted a nice wide shoulder, eyeing the Squirrelwood Road exit in West Paterson.

Waiting in his cruiser at Exit 52 in Fairfield, Petrocelli saw the 53-foot, unmarked white truck pass about 10:20 a.m. He drove two lanes over from the rig and quickly found reasons to pull it over: speeding and a crack spanning the entire windshield, Petrocelli said.

Once the truck stopped, Petrocelli noticed some strange signs. The driver was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, but claimed to have a cold and was smoking nervously. His logbook did not detail a logical route between Texas and Brooklyn. Alberto Olguin, the driver, immediately jumped out of the truck and asked Petrocelli if he wanted to search the back.

And Petrocelli's familiarity with international smuggling gave him a big tip: Jesus Malverde. The pendant of the so-called patron saint of Mexican drug dealers hung from Olguin's passenger-side chair, Petrocelli said.

"It looks like a religious medallion, but it's not like praying to Saint Jude," he said.

Meanwhile, a K-9 unit that had arrived detected a scent. Opening up the back, Petrocelli saw a 6-foot wall packed tightly with boxes of limes ? except for a few out loose on top.

"You're not going to professionally stack a truck and randomly pull out some boxes," Petrocelli said. "He had to create space for something."

Petrocelli and Officer Stephen Lantigua, an assisting patrolman, piled in the truck's cab with Olguin and instructed him to drive to the Sheriff's Department office in Wayne. There, they used a forklift to unload 1,000 pounds of cargo. After removing the front layers, officers found a mound of 60 packages bound with black duct tape. Each held two Tupperware containers encasing white powder.

In his thousands of arrests for drug possession, Petrocelli says he has never stopped someone with large quantities of crystal methamphetamine.

"It's not an East Coast drug," he said.

By 1 p.m., police had arrested Olguin and taken him to the Passaic County Jail. His bail was set for $5 million.

Petrocelli, who co-wrote "Anatomy of a Motor Vehicle Stop," teaches officers throughout the country about how to pull over smugglers. He gladly lent his expertise to foil a massive drug shipment Monday.

"I prepare for my stops, (the smugglers) prepare for their stops," Petrocelli said. "We were just better prepared this time."
Reach Heather Haddon at 973-569-7121 or haddon@northjersey.com