The largest cocaine bust in Nevada history began with a flashy semitrailer "driving erratically" early Wednesday on northbound Interstate 15 near Jean.
A Nevada Highway Patrol trooper conducted a routine traffic stop, pulling over the burnt-orange rig tricked out in chrome.
The stop, 30 miles outside Las Vegas, netted law enforcement 452 pounds of cocaine worth more than $16 million on the street.
Lt. Laz Chavez, with the Metropolitan Police Department's Narcotics Section, said the trooper, who was assisted by a Las Vegas police detective, believed that the driver answered questions dishonestly and that the truck needed to be searched.
A drug-sniffing dog discovered the cocaine in secret compartments in the truck's bed after the driver, 51-year-old Gaston Danjou, allowed officers to search the vehicle.
Danjou was taken to the Clark County Detention Center, where he is being held without bail on recommended charges of possession of cocaine, trafficking cocaine and transporting a controlled substance.
"It was a traffic violation," said Chavez, who praised the officers involved for being perceptive in recognizing that something was suspicious.
Chavez announced the drug bust Wednesday afternoon at a Nevada Highway Patrol building on Sunset Road near Decatur Boulevard. He stood outside next to a table stacked with 10 duffle bags filled with cocaine bales seized in the haul.
Chavez said the state's previous record for a cocaine bust -- 125 pounds -- was set a few years ago.
The Nevada Highway Patrol trooper and the Las Vegas detective responsible for the traffic stop belong to a drug task force that includes officers with the Henderson Police Department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Wednesday's bust follows a July operation that resulted in the largest methamphetamine bust in Nevada history. It netted 208 pounds of the drug with a street value of $5.7 million.
The task force involved in Wednesday's cocaine seizure also was behind the meth bust, which saw law enforcement conduct raids on Southern Nevada homes thought to be connected to a Mexican organization.
Chavez said the two busts are not related. Authorities are only in the preliminary stage of their investigation into the cocaine case.
"It's safe to say that 452 pounds is going to be connected to a larger organization," Chavez said, adding that investigators are pursuing leads.
Danjou was pulled over because he wasn't maintaining his lane on I-15 north. He was stopped about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
When questioned by officers, he gave inconsistent information. What he told officers didn't match the records on his driving log.
There was no indication Danjou was under the influence of drugs, Chavez said.
According to Danjou's arrest report, the trooper who pulled him over described him as noticeably tense.
"As I made contact with him, he appeared to be nervous and had to be told several times that I needed to see the paperwork for his truck," the report said.
Danjou's truck was registered to him. He had a Canadian driver's license and plates from Quebec.
The report said that after a records check, the trooper decided not to issue Danjou a traffic citation. But the trooper continued questioning him, asking Danjou whether there was anything illegal inside the truck.
"I then asked him if he had any marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin. To each he said no, but was unable to maintain eye contact while doing so," the report said.
Danjou then agreed to let officers search his truck.
Danjou initially was cooperative with authorities, but he stopped talking after he realized the cache of cocaine had been discovered, Chavez said.
Investigators determined that Danjou was coming from central California and most likely was headed to the Midwest.
Chavez said monitoring I-15 is a priority for the drug task force because it's a highway that stretches across the country.
"I-15 is definitely a corridor that is utilized very frequently by drug-trafficking organizations," he said. "That's why we're so aggressive on 1-15 in both directions."
Contact reporter Antonio Planas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638.