Law enforcement officers stumbled into a drug distribution ring when they caught six men unloading 3,500 pounds of marijuana from an 18-wheel semi-tractor trailer truck across the street from a Queens supermarket Monday, authorities say.
Members of New York Drug Enforcement Task Force were near the Good Fortune Supermarket in the area of Ireland Street, between 51st Avenue and Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, at about 1:30 a.m. when they saw the men unloading cardboard boxes from the tractor-trailer into a smaller rental moving truck and a cargo van, the Queens district attorney's office said.
Video obtained exclusively by NBC 4 New York shows the suspects moving the boxes. A drug task force composed of DEA, NYPD and state police officers working an unrelated investigation nearby saw what was happening and approached the men.
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"They're out there on another operation at 1:30, but they see something and they react to it," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Jamie Hunt. "That's what law enforcement officers do."
When the officers got closer, they were overwhelmed by a strong odor of marijuana coming from the truck and from the boxes, prosecutors said. They then saw seven large pallets holding cardboard boxes stacked at least six feet high in the tractor-trailer.
The boxes contained $3.5 million worth of marijuana packaged in vacuum-sealed plastic bags allegedly slated for distribution throughout the city, authorities said. Stacked cash amounting from $200,000 to $300,000 was also found inside the three vehicles.
"That money is not going back to some bad guy in some other country," said Hunt. "We deprived him of his ill-gotten gains and got the weed off the street."
The six men, ranging in age from 24 to 53, are from California, Canada and Brooklyn, the district attorney's office said. They each face drug charges and were to be arraigned in Queens Criminal Court Tuesday.
Residents in Elmhurst say drug activity isn't normal in an area filled with families and children.