Published: May 22, 2012 Updated: 5:16 p.m.

Authorities: Anaheim man arrested in Utah's largest meth bust

By PAUL FOY / The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY – An Anaheim man found with more than 56 pounds of methamphetamine in his vehicle says he was promised $500 a pound for driving the drugs to Salt Lake City, according to court records unsealed Tuesday.

Instead, Osiel Ruvalocaba-Azpeitia could face up to life in prison and $10 million in fines if he's convicted on a federal distribution charge.

"It is the biggest meth bust in Utah," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Ronald Anson said Tuesday.

Ruvalocaba-Azpeitia, 24, of Anaheim, Calif., will plead not guilty to an indictment expected shortly from a grand jury, his federal defender, Rob Hunt, said after the suspect showed up in federal court in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.

U.S. Magistrate Sam Alba ordered Ruvalocaba-Azpeitia held on a federal complaint that sheds some light on a $5 million drug shipment investigators believe originated at a so-called Mexican super-lab.

According to a DEA affidavit unsealed in court Tuesday, Ruvalocaba-Azpeitia is a U.S. citizen and a student in need of cash to finish his college education and pay for his mother's surgery. He was driving another man's Toyota FJ Cruiser with California license plates, and was working for a Mexican drug lord who arranged the sale to another man in Utah.

He was stopped Sunday by a West Valley City police officer who used a dog to sniff out the drugs packed in PVC pipes and hidden inside the SUV's rear quarter panels, court records say.

It was no random traffic stop. DEA agents investigating the Sinaloa cartel were notified beforehand that the shipment was on its way, Frank Smith, assistant special agent-in-charge for the DEA's Rocky Mountain region, said at a news conference Monday.

On Tuesday, Smith declined comment, saying he and case agents were prohibited from discussing a case once it lands in federal court.

Court records refer to the defendant's partners by pseudonyms, but prosecutors said they are affiliated with Sinaloa, one of Mexico's dominant drug cartels.

The U.S. is seeking to target higher-ups who arranged for the shipment, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund said.

"Mexican authorities have to cooperate on that process," Lund said outside federal court Tuesday. "The goal of our investigation is to move up the ladder."

Undercover drug agents arranged to purchase the 56.5 pounds of meth for $650,000, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported from Monday's DEA news conference.

Smith said the meth was more than 97 percent pure and was believed to have been made at a Mexican super-lab and smuggled across the U.S. border.

Authorities say the meth had a street value of about $5 million.

Authorities: 56-pound meth bust Utah's largest | court, tuesday, federal - News - The Orange County Register