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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Drug suspects plead not guilty

Three men, including one from Toledo, pleaded not guilty yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to multiple drug charges related to a stop by the Ohio Highway Patrol earlier this month on the Ohio Turnpike.

State troopers discovered 12 kilograms, or 26.4 pounds, of cocaine valued at $1.8 million.

Roberto Cortez, 33, of San Benito, Texas, is charged with possession of cocaine and trafficking in cocaine.

Salvador DeLaCruz, 37, of 3825 Peru St., is charged with possession of cocaine, complicity in the commission of possession of cocaine, and complicity in the commission of trafficking cocaine.

Ricardo Lopez-Balli, 38, of Bradenton, Fla., is charged with possession of cocaine and trafficking in cocaine.

All three were being held in the Lucas County jail in lieu of bonds of $500,000 each, set yesterday.

Judge James Jensen also ordered a bond hearing for Wednesday.

A state trooper stopped a car driven by Mr. DeLaCruz about 3:30 p.m. April 3 for following too closely. The car was heading eastbound on the turnpike and was near the interchange at Toledo Express Airport .

A sport utility vehicle being driven by Mr. Lopez-Balli was stopped nearby for the same offense, the patrol said.

During the stops, troopers determined that Mr. DeLaCruz owned the SUV that Mr. Lopez-Balli was driving.

A drug-detecting dog was used to search both vehicles, and authorities found the cocaine in the SUV, the patrol said.

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