VALDOSTA -- Two Georgia men were charged with narcotics trafficking on Wednesday after Lowndes County Sheriff's deputies uncovered 105 pounds of marijuana concealed in the bed of a truck.

Samuel Beltran, 22, and Ewing Gastelum, both of Chatsworth, are being held in the Lowndes County Jail on charges of trafficking in marijuana. Deputies placed the street value of the drugs at $250,000.

According to sheriff's department officials, the pair were pulled over in the southbound lane of Interstate 75 for a traffic violation. During questioning, the men became evasive, changing their stories. Beltran, the driver, told deputies he was headed to Florida to buy an antique automobile, but kept mentioning different cities. Gastelum said he did not know where they were going. Both, deputies said, appeared nervous and agitated.

An examination of the vehicle, a 2000 GMC truck, revealed a discrepancy in the bed of the truck that led deputies to believe it might contain drugs. A K-9 unit was called and indicated the presence of drugs, but could not pinpoint the location.

After being given consent to search, the deputies had the truck examined by a mechanic who told them the bed of the truck had been altered. A close inspection revealed a large compartment that had been caulked and spray-painted to look original.

The interior of the compartment was greased and the marijuana, separated into kilogram packages, was tied with string and crammed into the space. The compartment was designed to be sealed and reopened easily, officers said.

This was the second large-scale bust for the sheriff's office Interstate Criminal Enforcement team in about a month. On March 27, deputies seized five kilos of cocaine, which was also cleverly hidden in a truck.



To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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