Varied techniques used for hiding drugs, authorities say

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Small, compact and addictive, drugs can be hidden nearlyanywhere by dealers and users alike in their quest to avoidpunishment, law enforcement officials said.

The ease with which drugs can be disguised pose hiddenchallenges to law enforcement officers and parents who wish toprotect the public and children from the illegal substances.

“There’s so many different ways to hide them, and they come upwith new way every day,” said Brookhaven Police Chief PapHenderson. “Even the most simple container could very well have afalse bottom or other hidden compartment.”

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Lincoln County Sheriff Wiley Calcote agreed. He used a Sundayarrest to illustrate his point.

Akil Harris, 25, of Houston, Texas, was stopped for carelessdriving on I-55 while headed to Kentucky. A search of his vehiclefound one pound of marijuana in the glovebox, a .380 semiautomaticpistol and $592 in cash, which were all seized.

Also found was a working shaving cream can that drug dog Carlosassured narcotics officers was a container for drugs.

Further investigation revealed a false bottom that screwed off,Calcote said. Inside were 40 tablets of Ecstasy, which were alsoseized.

It’s an old and common trick used by smugglers and users tryingto hide their stash, the officers said. Other variants on the themeinclude removing lip balm from its twist-top container andreplacing its contents with narcotics.

“Parents need to be aware of all these little tricks,” Hendersonsaid. “A good parent is a nosy parent. Just about any type ofcontainer can be used to stash drugs.”

Then there’s disguise, or hiding in plain sight. A common trickused in this method is placing marijuana joints in a cigarette packor packing a cigar with marijuana.

“You certainly can’t stop everyone you see with a cigar,”Henderson said.

The smugglers and dealers, of course, work on a larger scale,Calcote said.

Bricks of marijuana weighing several pounds and kilo packages ofcocaine have been found inside spare tires, or even inside tires inuse that had to be slashed to remove the drugs; and inside hiddencompartments found or crafted in vehicles.

“There’s a lot of different areas in a vehicle where they canbuild a compartment,” Henderson said. “There are certain placeswhere it is so common we take it for granted.”

Common places include such ready-made areas as wheel wells andinside doors or seats. Mechanically-inclined smugglers will buildcompartments beneath the floorboards, Calcote said.

Even mechanical parts are suspect, the sheriff said, citing gastanks. Smugglers will build a self-enclosed pocket inside the gastank to protect the drugs from the fuel and hope the smell of thefuel will disguise the drugs.

“It’s a hard job to get to the drugs,” Calcote said. “They haveto take off the gas tank and lift the lid, then put the tank backon.”

However, the gas tank is large enough to hide two or three kilosof cocaine or several pounds of marijuana which can turn quite aprofit on the streets, he said.

“Several years back, they even found some in an engine block,”Calcote said.

Many times officers have to suspect even the most mundane items,he said.

“Lumber’s not an uncommon thing to see in the back of a pickup,but they can cut off the top of a section, hollow it out and fillit with drugs,” the sheriff said.

Officers have seen even more creative and ingenious methods, butdid not want to give anyone ideas, they said, so they only providedsome of the common techniques.

“We’ve seen all of them right here in Lincoln County,” Calcotesaid.