Traffic stop leads to big bust for rookie


More than 400 pounds of marijuana - compressed into heavy blocks, wrapped in plastic and coated with an oil to cover the odor - were confiscated after a rookie Howard County police officer stopped a vehicle for failing to have an emissions test and smelled the drug.

Officer David Aronovic said that he was running license plate numbers through a computer database in his patrol car around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday in Jessup when the registration on Chester Griffiths' 1995 Jeep Cherokee popped up as suspended.

Aronovic arrested Griffiths, 43, of the 4000 block of Carlisle Ave. in Baltimore, on northbound U.S. 1 near Route 175 and then, during a search of his vehicle, found the 436 pounds of marijuana stored in three cardboard boxes padded with green Styrofoam, he said. Police estimate that the cache of standard, commercial-grade marijuana is worth $500,000.

The seizure was the second major drug bust in the Baltimore area in two days. On Tuesday, Baltimore police confiscated 400 pounds of marijuana, along with plants and a cultivation system, when they raided an East Pratt Street rowhouse. That seizure, which authorities said included a large amount of high-quality marijuana, was valued at $1.5 million.

Griffiths was being held without bond at the Howard County Detention Center on a "drug kingpin" charge, among several other marijuana and traffic-violation charges.

During a news conference yesterday, acting Police Chief William J. McMahon put on display the brown blocks of marijuana as well as more than $2,000 that police say Griffiths was carrying.

McMahon praised Aronovic, 22, who just one month ago gained enough experience to conduct patrols by himself, for "making an impact" on the region's drug trade.

"I was somewhat surprised" to find the marijuana, Aronovic said. "I just did my job as I was trained. There have been much larger busts in the past, and I'm sure there will be in the future."

McMahon said police are trying to determine the origin and the destination of the marijuana.

Samples of the marijuana, which was wrapped mostly in 32-pound blocks, are being shipped to the Maryland State Police lab for analysis. Howard County police also searched the packages for fingerprints. The drugs will eventually be destroyed, said Pfc. Brandon Justice, a spokesman for Howard County police.

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