Authorities seized nearly 600 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $2.7 million and arrested five people -- including couples from Elburn and Batavia -- in connection with an operation that transported pot to the Chicago area from the Southwest United States, according to state police and court records.
"It's a sizable seizure," said Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Matt Gainer, who also is director of the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group, one of several agencies that investigated and made arrests this week. "It's not going to win the war on drugs, but it certainly dismantles one organization's means of trafficking from one part of the country to another."
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The North Central Narcotics Task Force, a unit of the state police, announced the arrests Thursday and said the authorities, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, had investigated the group for three months. Authorities said the five were arrested Tuesday night after simultaneous traffic stops were made in Aurora and Sugar Grove.
Police seized 598 pounds of marijuana from two vehicles.
According to authorities and court records, those facing charges of possession of more than 5,000 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver and felony marijuana trafficking are: Matthew A. Westerlin, 28, and Crystal L. Westerlin, 29, both of the 300 block of East Nebraska Street, Elburn; Richard G. Ecklund, 48, of the 2700 block of Sperry Court, Batavia; and Dean A. Dziuba, 55, of the 1100 block of Lodgepole Court, Darien.
The trafficking charges are the most severe and carry a 6- to 30-year prison term if convicted with no possibility of probation.
Mary L. Nunez, 57, of the 2700 block of Sperry Court, Batavia, also is charged with felony drug trafficking.
Gainer declined to elaborate on many aspects of the arrests, saying the investigation is ongoing. He said, generally speaking, authorities believe the defendants transported Mexican marijuana from the Southwest to sell in the suburbs and Chicago area.
Gainer said the Westerlins are married and so are Ecklund and Nunez. Gainer said police searched Ecklund's home and found three handguns, resulting in additional charges of possession of a firearm without a Firearm Owner's Identification Card.
Bail was set at $35 million for Ecklund, meaning he must post $3.5 million bond to be free while the case is pending.
Bail for the remaining defendants was set at $27 million each, meaning each must post $2.7 million to be free while the case is pending. In major drug cases, bond is usually set at the value of the drugs that were seized in the arrest.
All five are due in Kane County court Tuesday. None of them have previous felony arrests in Kane County, records show.
According to court records, prosecutors have filed a motion requiring any of the defendants, if they are able to post bond, to prove that the money came from legitimate sources and was not the proceeds from drug dealing.