The terms “blocker car” and “moonshining” came out in a York County courtroom bond hearing Thursday – but the topic wasn’t racing or corn liquor.
The topic was 100-plus pounds of pot.
The marijuana allegedly was brought to Rock Hill earlier this month by a Charlotte bail bondsman, carrying the drugs, and a Mecklenburg County tattoo artist, assigned to block police, prosecutors said.
Miguel Angel Nieto, 27, the bondsman, and tattoo artist Francisco Antonio Rivas-Ortiz, 25, in what 16th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Matthew Hogge called a “very serious” trafficking scheme, transported 100-plus pounds of pot with a street value of close to $300,000. Both suspects have been in jail since their May 12 arrest when the drugs were seized.
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A conviction for marijuana trafficking of more than 100 pounds carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison. Hogge asked for a high bond because of the seriousness of the charges. Judge John C. Hayes III set bond at $100,000 for both men and allowed Nieto to continue to work as a bondsman in three North Carolina counties pending trial. Both suspects have to wear electronic ankle monitors.
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers and York County drug agents watched Nieto’s Charlotte house after weeks of cellphone and other surveillance, then saw Rivas-Ortiz load the drugs into Nieto’s car on May 12, Hogge said in court. Nieto drove the drug car while Rivas-Ortiz drove a second strategic blocking car to prevent law enforcement from pulling over the car with the drugs, Hogge said.
Drug agents, knowing the ruse, used other vehicles appearing to be broken down along Interstate 77 to cause traffic to stop, then swooped in with an eight-vehicle brigade of police to surround both cars and capture the men and the drugs, Hogge said.
Rivas-Ortiz’s lawyer scoffed at any plot and claimed his client knew nothing of the drugs.
“He (Rivas-Ortiz) thought he was going to a party,” said Chris Wellborn, lawyer for Rivas-Ortiz. He didn’t know anything of any “blocker car,” which “harkens back to the moonshining days of the 1940s,” Wellborn said.
Nieto’s lawyer Ken Snow said only that his version is different from that of prosecutors, and Nieto has been and would continue to be “cooperative” with police.
As a bondsman, Nieto is not a flight risk because he knows he must appear in court, Snow said. A bondsman assists suspects in getting out of jail before trial. A bondsman typically puts up a percentage of a suspect’s bond as a fee. If the suspect flees, Hayes said Thursday, the bondsman is out the remaining bond.
Nieto was not allowed to post his own bond.
“A South Carolina bondsman has to put the money up,” Hayes said.