Local News

Charges dropped after drug bust shown on YouTube

Posted July 22, 2008 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2008 11:48 p.m. EDT

— Charges have been dropped in the biggest drug bust in Lee County after video of the crime scene appeared on the Internet.

The drug bust was part of a joint investigation by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. The marijuana was tracked from Mexico to Lee County, where officials said they caught Auturo Elizalde, 27, and Thomas Ayala, 32, with 1,900 pounds of marijuana Jan 25.

An officer with the Sanford Police Department videotaped the bust, and his video turned up on YouTube. The video has been removed from the site, and the officer is no longer with the department. Officials withheld his name.

Investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys claimed they didn't even know the video existed until word spread that it was online.

“It's my understanding that there were two Sanford police officers who came to the scene and did record part of the crime scene,” Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter said.

Carter said he does not know what the officers were doing there. Federal and state agents were on the scene, he said, and local police were never called.

"I'm upset that this happened,” Carter added.

Elizalde and Ayala were arrested during the bust.

After the defense argued that the video should have been submitted into evidence, all charges but one were dismissed against the two suspects.

Both men were sentenced to probation, and released on time served.