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Truck driver sentenced on drug charges, another admits guilt

This photo provided by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General shows truck driver Henry A. Cruz Ventura, of Los Angeles, who pleaded guilty Friday, May 5, 2017, to first-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute. Ventura was arrested Aug. 23, 2016, during an inspection at a weigh station on Interstate 78 in Greenwich Township, N.J., where New Jersey State Police troopers found four boxes that contained 64 kilograms of heroin and 10 kilograms of cocaine, according to New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Ventura is scheduled to be sentenced June 23, 2017, and prosecutors will recommend 10 years in state prison as part of his plea agreement. (New Jersey Office of the Attorney General via AP)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A California truck driver who brought large quantities of drugs into New Jersey is now headed to prison, while another has admitted his role in a similar plot.

The two cases are among the latest to highlight the role that the country’s interstate highway system plays in getting drugs from Mexico to urban centers. The trucks stopped on Interstate 78 are often headed to drug houses in New York to be repacked for sale on the street and the truckers return with cash, police say.

Oscar Franco, 59, of Chula Vista, received a 10-year state prison sentence Friday. He had 36 kilograms (79 pounds) of heroin in his tractor-trailer when state police stopped the vehicle in Greenwich Township for a routine commercial inspection in August 2016.

A trooper found significant irregularities in Franco’s logbook and also noticed his travel itinerary included unexplained detours. The trooper eventually found two duffel bags in the truck containing the heroin.

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said the heroin found in Franco’s truck could have sold for more than $10 million on the street once it was cut and packaged.

“Every time we put a heroin trafficker like Franco in prison, we cut off a major supply line for this lucrative criminal market and save lives that otherwise would fall victim to his poison,” Porrino said.

In a separate case, Los Angeles resident Henry Cruz Ventura pleaded guilty Friday to possessing heroin with the intent to distribute. Authorities say 64 kilograms of heroin (141 pounds) and 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cocaine were found in his truck.

Ventura, 40, was arrested in August 2016 after a trooper noticed he was acting suspiciously and also found irregularities with the tractor-trailer and its cargo. Troopers eventually found the drugs in four boxes that were inconsistent with the legitimate cargo listed in the shipping manifest.

Ventura faces a 10-year state prison term when he’s sentenced June 23.

While only a fraction of the more than 2,000 truck stops done by the state police’s mobile safe freight unit each year turn up drugs, law enforcement say it’s a key part of cutting into the supply side of the state’s drug epidemic that claimed more than 1,500 lives in 2015.

The unit seized 160 kilograms (352 pounds) of heroin last year, more than six times as the previous four years combined, according to state police data. The unit also confiscated 27 kilograms (59 pounds) of cocaine and 1,054 pounds (478 kilograms) of pot. Police estimate the drugs’ total value at more than $21 million.

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