Cocaine worth $1 million found stashed in wheelchair at BWI Marshall

A 34-year-old man has been charged with felony narcotics importation, accused of trying to smuggle cocaine into the country through BWI Marshall Airport.

Gabriel Ruiz flew in to BWI last week from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

“He was riding a motorized wheelchair, came up to our inspection booth and we referred him to a secondary examination,” said Steve Sapp, a spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The chair’s cushions looked unusual.

Cocaine found in wheelchair cushions at BWI. (Courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

“We threw it in the X-ray system and saw some anomalies in the seat and back cushions,” Sapp said. “We took a look inside those cushions and we found 13 bricks that weighed a little bit more than 30 combined pounds, and the bricks tested positive for the properties of cocaine.”

The cocaine had an estimated street value of about $1 million, according to Sapp.

Ruiz, who is from New Jersey, was arrested.

His case is being handled by the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“Concealing dangerous drugs inside wheelchair seat cushions is unusual,” according to a statement from Customs and Border Protection. “Transnational criminal organizations work very hard to conceal their illicit drugs, but this cocaine seizure proves once again that Customs and Border Protection officers are up to the task of protecting our communities.”

It is similar to a May 31 incident in Charlotte, North Carolina, when Customs and Border Protection officers found cocaine concealed inside a wheelchair at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Officers found 23 pounds of cocaine in that case and, just like in the BWI seizure, the suspect had been traveling from the Dominican Republic. Alexander Lopez-Morel, 22, was charged with felony trafficking of cocaine.

Sapp said it is difficult to say whether the two cases are directly connected.

“It’s rewarding when our officers encounter cocaine and are able to get it off the street,” said Sapp. “Our job is to try to keep them out of the country before they actually get into our communities.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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