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Heroin seizure called biggest in Ohio history

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    Special agent Carl Spicocchi, head of the Toledo FBI office, appeared with Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre, right, at a press conference announcing the historic heroin bust.

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Area law-enforcement authorities Thursday seized 18.5 kilograms, or about 40.7 pounds, of heroin and arrested Rene Garcia-Torrez, 44, and Armondo Palma-Loya, 42. Both suspects, who had Texas addresses, are being held without bond in the Lucas County jail on federal drug charges.

Authorities said the arrests came after a federal investigation into drug trafficking that began about a year ago. They declined comment on how the investigation started, but said it involved extensive negotiation and surveillance.

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Palma-Loya

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The joint investigation concluded by the Toledo Metro Drug Task Force has ties to other states and Mexico, Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre said.

This was not a result of luck, not being in the right place at the right time, he said. This was a loss of a significant amount of money to someone.

John Sommer, executive director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally coordinated effort targeting major drug trafficking routes, agreed, noting that normal heroin busts are in ounces.

This represents thousands and thousands of doses of heroin that will be kept off the streets of Toledo and surrounding areas, he said.

Authorities said Palma-Loya came here Wednesday and delivered seven kilograms of heroin. A day later, he and Mr. Garcia-Torrez delivered another 11.5 kilograms.

The heroin was delivered to an undercover officer, who used hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the drug. The money was recovered after the suspects were arrested in a pickup at 2:30 a.m. Thursday in the 7400 block of Airport Highway in Springfield Township.

Authorities said the heroin originated in Mexico and is street quality.

They declined comment on whether any additional drugs were seized or other arrests were made as a result of the investigation.

An affidavit in U.S. District Court in Toledo reviewed by The Blade indicates the undercover officer obtained the heroin from Palma-Loya and that Mr. Garcia-Torrez was present when the transaction occurred.

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Garcia-Torrez

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Mr. Garcia-Torrez was later found in possession of $11,000 that was part of the payment the undercover officer gave Palma-Loya, according to the affidavit.

Both men were charged in federal court with possession with intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin. They declined requests for interviews.

If convicted, Mr. Garcia-Torrez could face 10 years in prison and a $4 million fine and Palma-Loya could receive a mandatory 20 years to life in prison and an $8 million fine.

Authorities said Palma-Loya has an extensive criminal record and served federal prison time for drug trafficking. Mr. Garcia-Torrez, they said, has no criminal record in the U.S.

Mr. Sommer said heroin is a growing problem and is second to methamphetamine. He said purity levels are increasing and the price is decreasing. Heroin use is not only a problem in cities, but is often found in well-to-do suburbs and crosses all economic backgrounds, he said.

The Lucas County coroner s office has recorded 54 heroin-related deaths in the last 10 years. The number of such deaths hit its peak in 2000 with 13.

Four heroin-related deaths have been recorded so far this year, equaling the total for all of 2004.

Contact Christina Hall atchall@theblade.comor 419-724-6007.

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