By Tim Eberly
A Canadian man the Border Patrol caught smuggling 21 pounds of marijuana into Montana inside a large stereo pleaded guilty last Tuesday in federal court in Great Falls.
Tommy Mario Roccia, 25, of Edmonton pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to smuggling and importation of marijuana. Roccia, who will be sentenced May 8, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and five years of supervised release.
On Nov. 10, 2001, Roccia's older model Ford Explorer tripped intrusion alarms at the Canadian border on the northern edge of Toole County, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office. When Border Patrol officers responded, they observed the Explorer with a Canadian license.
Without request from authorities, Roccia pulled over, which allowed the Border Patrol to investigate the incident, the press release said.
Roccia told officers he had entered the United States through a legal port of entry the Sweetgrass Port of Entry about six miles west of where he actually entered the country, the release said. After officers verified he had not crossed the border at Sweetgrass, Roccia's vehicle was impounded.
"It was not the smartest thing for him to do," said Jim Clardy, an assistant chief with the Border Patrol in Havre. "But I would say we were in the right place at the right time."
A drug-sniffing police dog alerted officers to the large boom box in the rear of the vehicle. Officers found 21.22 pounds of high-priced marijuana in 23 vacuum-sealed packages within the stereo, according to the release.
The street value of the "B.C. bud," a genetically altered marijuana grown in water in greenhouses to heighten its potency, amounted to $106,100, Clardy said.
"As far as marijuana goes, it's not that much," Clardy said. "But it is a substantial amount of B.C. bud."
The path Roccia used to enter the United States Clardy declined to disclose the exact location has been used before by drug smugglers.
"The area has been used before and it is one of the areas we pay a lot of attention to," Clardy said.