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More than 7½ pounds of cocaine mailed from California spurs charges

Bricks of cocaine with an estimated street value of at least $112,000 arrived from California last week in a Priority Mail package.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Priority Mail package filled with 7½ pounds of cocaine has a Kentwood man facing federal charges that could put him in prison for decades.

Investigators say 40-year-old Cortney Jovon Spencer took delivery of cocaine mailed to Kentwood last week from southern California.

The cocaine, with an estimated street value of at least $112,000, was delivered to an address on Kalamazoo Avenue south of 52nd Street SE.

Spencer was arrested after placing the parcel in the backseat of his SUV. He denied knowing what was in the parcel, federal court records show.

A federal grand jury this week charged Spencer with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He’s also charged with unlawful use of the U.S. mail. If convicted of the cocaine charge, Spencer faces between five and 40 years in prison.

Spencer made a brief appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. He is free on bond.

Postal authorities and law enforcement say a growing number of drug traffickers are using the mail to ship narcotics across the country. 

Drug traffickers favor Priority Mail because of the speed, reliability, free telephone and Internet package tracking service “as well as the perceived minimal chance of detection,’’ postal officials say.

In recent years, federal investigators in Grand Rapids have intercepted multiple shipments of methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine sent through the mail. Source states include California, Arizona and Texas.

“It’s possible to be able to ship a significant and high-cost amount in a small package,’’ said U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge, whose office in Grand Rapids is handling the prosecution of Spencer.

“We have extremely effective common carrier delivery where you can track a package so you know exactly where it is,’’ Birge said. “It’s just as great for the drug trafficker to be able to know exactly where his delivery of drugs is and be able to arrange a quick pick-up.’’

Postal authorities have stepped-up investigative work in cities identified as known sources of controlled substances, notably in California.

The Priority Mail parcel that arrived in Grand Rapids last week raised red flags. It originated from Westminster, Calif., “a known source location in California for narcotics,’’ U.S. Postal Inspector Marcus D. Wallace wrote in a criminal complaint.

Wallace also determined that the name of the sender wasn’t associated with the sender address on the package label.

A drug-sniffing dog was brought in and indicated the presence of narcotics, Wallace wrote.

After obtaining a federal search warrant, the parcel was opened. It contained “three brick-like pieces of a white powdery substance, which field-tested positive for cocaine,’’ Wallace wrote. “The total weight of the three bricks was 3,441 grams.’’

On May 30, Wallace, dressed as a U.S. mail carrier, delivered the parcel to the listed address in Kentwood. No one answered the door, but a woman who pulled up provided identification that she lived there and was handed the package.

She put the package in the trunk of her car and went inside the home, court records show. A short while later, a black SUV driven by Spencer pulled into the driveway. 

“Spencer removed the parcel from the trunk of the car and placed it in the backseat of his SUV,’’ Wallace wrote. “Spencer was arrested and taken into custody.’’

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