Two charged after Cleveland federal agents seize more than 200 pounds of cocaine

Two men face federal drug charges following their arrest Saturday in bust that saw state and federal officials seize more than 200 pounds of cocaine on Cleveland's East Side.

Antonio Navarro-Gaytan, 64, and Alejandro Cota-Luna, 28, each face a drug-conspiracy charge. Agents from a Drug Enforcement Administration task force found the cocaine in a secret compartment below a semi-trailer in a parking lot in the 17800 block of St. Clair Avenue.

Their arrest came after California DEA agents tipped off local agents about a large shipment of drugs headed to Cleveland, according to an affidavit released by the U.S. Attorney's Office.  Both men declined to make statements to investigators after their arrests, the affidavit says.

They made their initial appearances Wednesday afternoon in front of Magistrate Judge William Baughman. Preliminary and detention hearings are scheduled for next week.  Both men spoke through a translator and were appointed attorneys. The U.S. Attorney's Office says both men are Mexican nationals.

The affidavit says Navarro-Gaytan was stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border in April 2010 while hauling a trailer with cement patio furniture and nearly 40 pounds of marijuana. He was not criminally prosecuted by U.S. officials at the time.

The bust is the largest cocaine seizure in Cleveland in more than a decade.

Terry Gilbert, Navarro-Gaytan's court-appointed attorney, said he did not know enough about the case to comment. Carolyn Kucharski, Cota-Luna's federal public defender, declined to comment.

According to the affidavit:

After California agents passed on information, law enforcement here surveyed the address and the semi that was westbound on the Ohio Turnpike. Agents saw Navarro-Gaytan and Cota-Luna meet up with the semi when it arrived at the St. Clair Avenue address.

Both men worked beneath the truck with what appeared to be a hidden compartment.  A Highway Patrol trooper stopped the car later on Interstate 90 for speeding. When questioned, both men gave different stories.

Troopers searched the car and found tools they believed were used to open and re-seal the secret compartment. They also found a ledger that, while mostly written in Spanish, had the address where the men met up with the semi.

Agents let them go and got a warrant to search the semi on St. Clair Avenue. They found 92 bricks of cocaine. Each weighed a little more than two pounds.  After this discovery, both men were arrested at a hotel near Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport.

The DEA, Cleveland Division of Police, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Cleveland Heights Police Department, Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office, Summit County Drug Unit, Lake County Narcotics Agency, Lorain County Drug Task Force and Homeland Security Investigations are collaborating on this investigation.

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