PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — The 4 kilograms of fentanyl found during a traffic stop on I-94 near Paw Paw this week were connected to the infamous Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, a judge said at the driver’s arraignment.
Brahajan Martinez-Garcia, 25, of California was formally charged in a Van Buren County courtroom Thursday on a felony count of possession of more than 1,000 grams of fentanyl with intent to deliver.
He was arrested Tuesday morning after a Michigan State Police trooper pulled him over on eastbound I-94 west of Paw Paw and found the drugs in his car.
“(MSP) provided information that these controlled substances and its transport was connected to the Sinaloa cartel,” Judge Michael McKay said while discussing factors in setting bond. “They also stated that it was enough fentanyl to kill 2.5 million people, which is roughly a third of the population of the state of Michigan, which may make Mr. Garcia the most dangerous person in our jail that he was furthering that health crisis.
“Jail may also be the safest place for Mr. Garcia, given that he lost $6 million worth of cartel fentanyl,” the judge added.
Visibly upset, Martinez-Garcia told the judge he didn’t work for the cartel and said he didn’t know what was in his car until police told him. He said he was afraid to go to prison.
“In there, I think I might be killed because I know they have a lot of connections,” he said in Spanish through a translator before his attorney told him to stop talking.
MSP: DRIVER ‘NERVOUS’ AT TRAFFIC STOP
Laying out the facts of the case to the judge Wednesday, an MSP sergeant testified Martinez-Garcia was pulled over because he was going slow in the left lane, the car’s windshield was cracked and the license plate was obstructed.
“Nervousness was observed immediately upon contact,” the sergeant said, adding that it looked like Martinez-Garcia had been living out of his car.
The sergeant testified that when the trooper asked Martinez-Garcia to get out of the car, he immediately put his arms in front of him as if he expected to be handcuffed. The trooper said she just wanted to talk to him.
“He advised he was coming from California headed to somewhere in Michigan; had directions in his phone. He was going to be here for about an hour and was then going to drive back to California,” the sergeant said.
The sergeant said Martinez-Garcia’s English seemed solid until the trooper asked him about luggage in the car, at which point “his English became not as good.”
The sergeant said Martinez-Garcia told him over the phone he was headed to his brother’s house to pick up his wife.
“He said that he was either going to be here for just the afternoon or going to drive back the next day,” the sergeant testified.
The sergeant asked in Spanish for permission to search and car it was granted, he testified.
The sergeant said troopers found about the 4 kilos, or about 11 pounds, of pure fentanyl in a duffel bag behind the driver’s seat.
MSP says it was the largest single fentanyl bust during a traffic stop in Michigan. The investigation led them to another location, where they found another 2 kilos, or about 6 pounds. The total 6 kilos, MSP says, has a street value of about $9 million.
SUSPECT: ‘FIRST TIME DOING THIS’
At arraignment, Judge McKay asked Martinez-Garcia if he had spoken with the trooper in English after he was pulled over. Martinez-Garcia, speaking in Spanish throughout the proceedings with the aid of the translator, that he had but that their conversation was only basic pleasantries.
“My point exactly,” McKay said. “That being said, we will conduct this arraignment as if he does not speak English, the way he did yesterday.”
The judge also pointed out that Martinez-Garcia had a tattoo that reads “Time is fair” in English. Martinez-Garcia said the tattoo was about the birth of his daughter and he liked it better in English.
Discussing bond, Martinez-Garcia’s attorney said he has a job, supports his young children and that he could reliably get to court in Michigan.
Martinez-Garcia added that he cooperated with MSP to detain other suspects and said it was his “first time doing this due to lack of money.”
“That is a statement his attorney is probably wishing he did not make,” McKay said. “Because now is not a time to talk about your case or the facts of the case.”
Martinez-Garcia replied that he was nervous.
The judge ordered him held in the Van Buren County Jail on a $500,000 bond, saying he was worried he was a flight risk because he entered the U.S. illegally three years ago. Martinez-Garcia said his wife is an American citizen and his children were here, so he would not leave the country. But the judge said even if Martinez-Garcia went only as far as California, it would make it much harder to get him back to Michigan.
If Martinez-Garcia posts bond and is released, he will have an electronic tether. His next court hearings were scheduled for March 22 and March 28. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.