By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — In October, Jose Martinez, 51, had $100,000 seized from him at a Los Angeles airport. When questioned, Martinez “had no logical reason for having this money,” detectives said.
In March, Martinez, of 123 Chestnut St., Andover, allegedly placed nearly $1 million cash in a tractor-trailer unit parked behind the Holiday Inn in Tewksbury. Drug detectives later found the money stashed in pallets of boxes of plastic forks, knives, spoons and napkins, according to court papers.
Then, last Friday, Martinez, who was being tailed by State Police drug detectives, was caught with 105 pounds of cocaine in the back of his Dodge Durango. Police said the drugs carry a street sales value of $4.5 million and the bust is believed to be the largest in Essex County in recent history.
Charged with trafficking cocaine and two counts of illegal firearms possession, Martinez was held on $5 million cash bail following his arraignment yesterday afternoon in Lawrence District Court.
Prosecutor Kelleen Forlizzi requested the high bail calling Martinez an “extreme flight risk.” Forlizzi pointed to his previous access to large amounts of cash, adding Martinez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, also has ties in Florida and California.
If convicted, Martinez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in prison, Forlizzi said.
Defense attorney Victoria Ranieri argued that Martinez has no previous record and lives in Andover with his wife of 14 years. She asked for bail at $10,000.
Martinez was arrested Friday on Interstate 495 north between Routes 133 and 93 around 1 p.m. Drug detectives were watching Martinez as part of a “large scale” investigation into “drug trafficking networks in the Merrimack Valley area,” Forlizzi said.
Detectives found a suitcase and a duffel bag containing 41 kilogram blocks of cocaine in the back of the Dodge Durango Martinez was driving. “The block shapes were vacuum sealed individually and through my training and experience were believed to be bulk amounts of cocaine. Two different blocks were field tested for cocaine and the test came back positive for cocaine,” Trooper James McTeague wrote in his report.
After his arrest, detectives search Martinez’s rented home seizing $10,000 cash, two loaded firearms, 100 bullets, an industrial grade money counter, digital scale, vacuum sealer and miscellaneous paperwork and documents. Forlizzi noted neither Martinez nor his wife have a license to carry a firearm.
As part of the investigation, detectives from the Essex County Drug Task Force were watching hotels in the area as they are commonly used for drug meetings and buys. Martinez was identified by detectives “as an individual making frequent hotel visits with extremely short stays,” Teague wrote.
Police said Martinez frequently left his home with what appeared to be empty bags and drove different rental cars. A background investigation showed Martinez had $100,000 seized from him by federal agents in Los Angeles last fall, according to McTeague’s report.
On March 9, detectives watched as Martinez left his home with “two large box-shaped items.” He put them in the rear of a black 2013 Ford Explorer, registered to a rental car company. He then drove to Tewksbury, pulling behind the Holiday Inn on Route 133. At that time, Martinez is believed to have stashed 19 bags containing $949,210 cash in the back of the tractor-trailer. “The bags of cash were secreted in five cardboard boxes,” McTeague wrote.
The tractor-trailer occupants denied any knowledge or ownership of the money found in the trailer, according to court papers.
On Friday, detectives watched as Martinez left his home just after noontime. The detectives followed Martinez, who was driving the Dodge Durango, to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Tewksbury and then again to the Holiday Inn parking lot. They watched as Martinez parked the Durango next to a silver Nissan Maxima with California plates. After some small talk, the trunk of the Maxima opened.
“Moments later, surveillance observed Martinez remove what appeared to be a large suitcase and a duffel bag and transfer them to the rear compartment of the Durango,” McTeague wrote.
Minutes later, McTeague and Troopers Steven Barnes and Stephen Gondella pulled over Martinez on I-495 and found the large amount of cocaine in the trunk.
Judge Mark Sullivan ordered Martinez be brought back to court on May 6 for a probable cause hearing.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.