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Oklahoma's turnpikes major routes for drugs

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Increased security at the nation's airports are making toll roads in Oklahoma prime routes for drug transportation.

So far this year, 18 people face drug charges after being stopped by Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper on the Turner and Will Rogers turnpikes.

U.S. Attorney David O'Meilia said cartels are beginning to favor ground transport for drugs because it has become increasingly difficult to get drugs into coastal cities on planes or ships.

Interstate 44, which includes the turnpikes, is a major corridor used by drug organizations to move their product from Mexico to major cities such as Atlanta, New York and Chicago.

Nearly 87 percent of the cocaine and marijuana in the United States was transported over the roads, officials have estimated.

Drug couriers or mules, as they are called, are paid by the amount of drugs they are carrying. Their captures are viewed as a cost of doing business, O'Meilia said.

Twenty- to 60-pound shipments that were once transported by air now are more prone to ground transport, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol 1st Lt. Jim McBride.

McBride is troop commander over OHP's special operations, which include the 16 troopers who work drug interdiction on the state's major highways.

One of the most significant developments in drug interdiction was a Supreme Court decision that allows evidence in drug cases to be admissible as long as officers pulled over a vehicle for a legitimate traffic violation, O'Meilia said.

A review of federal affidavits by the Tulsa World shows that most drug charges stem from traffic violations like using fog lights when fog not present and improper tag display.

Failure to signal a lane change near toll plazas in Vinita and Stroud was the most common traffic violation in drug cases in the U.S. Northern District Court.

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