If you travel I-10, chances are good you've driven next to a drug dealer. Those who patrol the busy interstate say the drug trafficking is worse than ever.
Case in point: The Harrison County Sheriff's Department has made six drug busts on the interstate in the past two weeks alone.
It's an ongoing "cat and mouse" game between drug runners and law enforcement.
Think about how nervous you might get if you're pulled over by police for a routine traffic ticket. Now imagine your level of nervousness if you happen to be hiding fifty pounds of cocaine in your vehicle. That nervousness is one of the "clues" Tony Sauro keys on when making a drug bust on the interstate.
Sauro pulls over an SUV on I-10 for a tag violation. A plastic cover darkened the license plate.
"I couldn't read that tag until I got about ten feet from you," said Sauro, who later ticketed the driver for having an expired license.
Routine traffic stops like that are the kind of interstate encounters that often precede a drug bust. Sauro's recent stop of a bus driver for suspected drowsy driving, resulted in a major cocaine case.
"This was a high dollar load they lost. Considering on the streets you have shoot outs over a couple of rocks, okay. You can imagine this explanation that's going to have to go on," Sauro explained, while showing one of the cocaine bricks from the recent stop involving the bus.
The bust yielded 15 kilos of near pure cocaine wrapped in multiple layers and marked with the cartel's signature.
Drug runners go to great lengths to hide their stash. Try inside a radiator.
"In this case here, this had about 300 thousand dollars worth of cocaine in it. It's secreted inside here. This will hold about five kilos," said Sauro, while pointing to a hollowed out radiator.
Transmission parts are also good hiding places.
"In a transfer case, in a four wheel drive unit. Where they gutted all the gears out and packed it with marijuana," he said.
Believe it or not.. Most suspects give their consent to search.
"They don't think we're going to find it. You know, yes sir, you can look. I understand all that and they sign the form. But they honestly don't think we're going to find it in their fuel tank, their radiator, their engine, their transmission," Sauro said.
Sheriff George Payne says the traffic stops on I-10 net more than a few illegal drugs.
"The real benefit is being able to take that one stop and do an investigation and follow back and break up organizations," said the sheriff.
That's the kind of motivation that's kept Tony Sauro prowling I-10 for 17 years now.
While the interstate drug busts often get the most publicity, Sauro says the sheriff's crime interdiction units do much more than traffic stops. In recent weeks, he's been involved in solving burglaries, chasing down a car jacker and helping corral a bank robber.