ASHEVILLE , N.C. (ACT) — Two Western North Carolina men face federal drug charges in a case that authorities believe involves the largest seizure of marijuana ever in Buncombe County.
Agents seized some 1,400 pounds of the drug with an estimated street value of up to $1.8 million from the Candler residence of one of the defendants, authorities said.
"It's a major trafficking amount," Sheriff Van Duncan said. "I don't know of a larger marijuana seizure that's ever taken place in Buncombe County."
Jose Chavez, 31, of Candler, and Ely Ramirez-Sanchez, 28, of Canton, each face up to 40 years in prison, according to U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins.
The men are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Wednesday.
A criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Asheville charges the pair with possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.
"We have worked a lot in the Candler area in dealing with hand-to-hand drug sales," said Duncan, whose agency helped investigate the case as a member of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force. "We think with this arrest, that that will definitely move things in the right direction.
"Anytime you can take 1,400 pounds of a controlled substance off the street, it's always going to have a benefit to the community."
Chavez and Ramirez-Sanchez were arrested Friday. Tompkins said the seizure was the largest in Buncombe since the inception of the DEA task force in 2005.
The investigation involved a series of recorded telephone calls between Ramirez-Sanchez and a "cooperating defendant," according to the complaint. A surveillance team also had followed Ramirez-Sanchez to Chavez's mobile home on Maple Avenue in Candler, the document states.
The complaint states officers stopped Ramirez-Sanchez's vehicle and seized about 40 pounds of pot contained in a cardboard box on the back seat of the car.
Later in the day, while executing a search warrant at Chavez's residence, officers seized two trash bags filled with marijuana, digital scales, plastic wrapping material and a handgun with an obliterated serial number.
Outside the residence, investigators found 15 boxes containing 23 blocks of marijuana inside a trailer and 27 boxes of the drug containing 111 blocks of marijuana stored in a small rental truck, the complaint states.
The street value of the drugs is between $840,000 and $1.8 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The charges against Chavez and Ramirez-Sanchez carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 40 years and a $10 million fine.