QUEENSBURY — State troopers were a bit perplexed when a man who stopped his car near a vehicle that was pulled over on the Northway told them he was headed to New York City, and planned to be there for 45 minutes.
When asked to clarify, he responded that he meant five days. And when queried about the lack of luggage for such a stay, he told the trooper that he planned to buy clothes in the Big Apple.
Driver Antoine Benoit’s comments were among a number of unusual things that he and co-defendant Manuel S. Torres said and did when Torres was stopped for speeding on the Northway on July 9, leading to the seizure of just under 180 pounds of marijuana, court records show. It was the biggest pot seizure in the region in decades.
State Police said Benoit was in a vehicle that was behind Torres’, and he stopped behind Torres and behind a state trooper when Torres was clocked at 78 mph. But when State Police asked him if he knew Torres, he replied he didn’t, but couldn’t explain why he had stopped with him.
“You’re story doesn’t make much sense,” court records show that Trooper Brian Russell, who along with Trooper Kenneth Ahigian made the arrests, told him.
Troopers smelled marijuana, which led to a search of Torres’ car and the recovery of duffel bags full of marijuana, records show. Police also found the rental agreements for both Torres’ van and the one Benoit drove, in Torres’ vehicle.
Torres initially indicated he didn’t know what cargo he was delivering, court records show.
“I don’t know. I’m just driving them. I’m told where to go and I drive to that address,” he told police, according to court records.
Eventually, State Police determined that the men were headed to Boston to deliver the weed, resulting in felony charges. Both were indicted this week by a Warren County grand jury on felony counts of first-degree criminal possession of marijuana and conspiracy.
Benoit, 25, and Torres, 20, of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, pleaded not guilty to the indictment, and Hall sent them to Warren County Jail for lack of $25,000 cash bail or $75,000 bail bond.
Warren County First Assistant District Attorney Matthew Burin told Warren County Judge John Hall that the men did not enter the country legally, as there was no record of them crossing at border stations. State Police believe they came in through the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne reservation on the border in St. Lawrence County.
A man who came to court from Canada for the duo’s arraignments Wednesday told the public defender’s office that one lawyer would be hired for the men, and efforts would be made to post their bail.
“It is my understanding one lawyer is going to be hired for both,” Warren County First Assistant Public Defender Brian Piltazke told the judge.
Hall ordered “bail source” hearings for them, should they try to post bail. The hearings would require them to show that the money being used as bail is not proceeds of crime.
While New York legislators have debated legalizing marijuana, it is still illegal under state law. The charges Benoit and Torres face could bring up to 5.5 years in state prison.