A North Carolina woman has been charged with passing an estimated $3 million in marijuana through Saratoga County and on to destinations locally and around the East Coast, authorities said.
Sarah Inman Shafer, 34, was arrested last week in North Carolina, officials said. She has been ordered to appear in U.S. District Court in Albany.
She faces one federal count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
According to a complaint filed last week in federal court in Albany, the marijuana was delivered in four separate loads in 2008 and 2009 and transferred to the buyer at a restaurant just off Exit 16 of the Northway. The truck driver then called the buyer directly and the transfer would take place.
In all, four shipments of 300 pounds each were transferred in Saratoga County, according to the federal complaint, with the buyer estimating to investigators that a total of $3 million was paid for it.
Investigators believe much of the marijuana passed through the region to other destinations, but some stayed in the area, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Belliss said.
Shafer appeared in U.S. District Court in North Carolina, though she has been released to travel to Albany on her own, Belliss said.
Investigators with the Capital District Drug Enforcement Task Force began investigating Shafer’s activities last year when they met the confidential source, according to the federal complaint. The complaint was prepared by task force officer Caitlin Ostrowski of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
The source had assisted investigators previously in investigations into cross-country trafficking of marijuana from the West Coast to the East Coast, including the Capital Region.
That source told investigators Shafer arranged the purchase of large amounts of marijuana from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2008 and 2009, and the delivery of that marijuana to the Capital Region.
The source first met Shafer in early 2008 at a residence in Vancouver, according to papers. The source is not named in the document, nor even identified by gender. The source is referred to only as “he/she.”
In Vancouver, Shafer showed the source samples of marijuana that could be purchased for $3,600 to $4,200 per pound. The source indicated interest and told Shafer the marijuana was to be delivered to the Capital Region.
Shafer gave the source an encrypted Blackberry and told that person to get prepaid cellphones. The marijuana would be trucked to the parking lot of Scotty’s Truck Stop/Restaurant, near Exit 16 of the Northway in Wilton.
Once there, the truck driver then would call the source on one of the prepaid cellphones and transfer the marijuana, concealed in black duffle bags, to that person. The source then would send an encrypted text message to Shafer to arrange payment in person.
The source told investigators he/she received four loads from Shafer between May 2008 and February 2009. Each load included about 300 pounds of marijuana. One load ended up being short 200 pounds, but the source complained and the remainder was delivered with an apology from Shafer.
The source made four payments, which totaled $3 million. Three were made directly to Shafer at the source’s home, described as being in the Northern District of New York, a large area that includes Saratoga County. Those payments were made directly to Shafer. The fourth was made at the Lowe’s store in Wilton to an associate of Shafer, according to the federal papers.
To corroborate the source’s story, investigators determined that in 2008 and 2009, Shafer lived in Southport, N.C., about 30 miles from Wilmington.
Investigators found flight records that showed Shafer traveled to Albany from Wilmington on six separate occasions from May 2008 to February 2009, with the dates corresponding to shipments or payments, according to the federal paperwork.
The larger investigation is ongoing, officials said.