SMITHFIELD (MCT) -- Ruth Davis banked on looking like just another granny in the slow lane.
But the 65-year-old Floridian was on business. A high-dollar delivery -- 33 pounds of premium pot -- was locked up in the trunk of her rented Chevy Impala. She set her cruise on 74 as she headed north on Interstate 95 through Johnston County, bound for New York.
A North Carolina trooper got in her way that morning last December and, by chance, stumbled across a new type of drug mule.
"I'm not someone you'd think would be doing this," Davis said this week during an interview at the Johnston County jail. "I guess that's why it was such a brilliant plan."
She's the newest face of the drug mule: frosted hair and crow's feet. From 2006 to 2007, the number of people over 60 charged with trafficking drugs in North Carolina state courts nearly doubled. In 2007, at least 44 elderly people were arrested for trafficking everything from marijuana to powder cocaine.
The aged are just the latest of disguises drug lords use to move drugs up and down the East Coast. Drug agents have seen all sorts of trickery: drugs stashed in wrecked cars hitched to tow trucks or stowed in minivans filled with families bound for vacation.
Grandma is a stealth strategy; she's slow, sweet and unsuspecting. A spokesman from the Drug Enforcement Administration said they've seen some cases of retirees being recruited by drug lords, their loot stashed in Cadillacs or motor homes.
"It's a good disguise," DEA special agent Chuvalo J. Truesdell said. "This is not a place you'd think to look."
The state Highway Patrol has been on the lookout for elderly traffickers but had not encountered one until Davis.
"Elderly traffickers have kind of been like the unicorn. We'd heard about it but never seen it," said Sgt. B.K. Henline, who's in charge of the patrol's interdiction team based along Johnston County's Interstate 95 corridor.
'In a Rough Patch'
Davis, too, would have slipped through the county had Trooper G. Taylor not pulled her for speeding on Dec. 12.
Davis is an unlikely trafficker. A native of Scotland, she practically sings her words. She's a mother of two from Miami and is expecting her first grandchild this year. She works as a consultant to a diet company, owns her own home and a slew of pets. Davis says she's not a drug user. She has never been a smoker of any kind and doesn't even care much for the taste of alcohol.
"I have a good life, really I do, but I was in a rough patch," Davis said. She said she knew she was breaking the law but decided she wasn't hurting anyone.
Seven years ago, doctors discovered Davis had a blood disease. It was a long, painful ordeal, one she braved without health insurance. The bills mounted and still linger. She owes more than $20,000. Then, her daughter got into a bad car crash and needed plastic surgery to reconstruct her face. The cost: at least $3,000.
So when a friend asked Davis whether she wanted to make some quick cash, she nodded. The friend linked her with a drug trader who quickly hired her to drive some of his supply from Miami to Manhattan. This was her sixth run, the last she needed to finally have enough to settle her debt and buy her daughter plastic surgery.
"It sounded so easy," Davis said. "Let me tell you. It's not. It's nerve-racking knowing what you have in your car. Looking for cops everywhere."
Davis said she would set her cruise control at 74 mph to keep with traffic. She only drove during daylight hours. When she saw blue lights swirling behind her early that December morning, she figured she'd charm her way out of a speeding ticket.
A strong odor he couldn't quite peg rushed over Taylor, the trooper, as Davis rolled down her window. He drilled her about her travel plans. She pointed to a small bag in her backseat and told him she'd be visiting a friend in New York. He raised an eyebrow when she said she didn't know when she'd return.
On a hunch, he asked to search her car. Davis nodded her OK, figuring there was still a chance he wouldn't notice the locked suitcases in the trunk. Then the trooper called for the drug dog. Davis knew her game was over. The dog went nuts when Davis opened the trunk, Henline said.
"We got the biggest kick out of her," Henline said. "I mean, she's the same age as my mother."
Scotland on the Horizon
Davis' children have scolded her for taking such a huge risk. Davis' arrest has brought her more trouble than she ever dreamed. While her attorney bargained for a sweet plea deal that's kept her locked up a mere six months in the Johnston County jail, immigration officials intend to send her back to Scotland. Her sentence ends today, but immigration officials will pick her up and take her to another detention facility where she'll await a hearing.
Davis has been in the United States for 40 years, since she married an American in her 20s. She's a legal resident but never became a U.S. citizen. A felony drug conviction will likely end America's hospitality and force Davis out of the country with an order to never return.
She's trying to wrap her head around a life in Scotland. It's been decades since she visited. Her family's gone. She doesn't know a soul there.
"I guess I'll have to cancel my burial plot in Miami," Davis said. "You think they'll refund a thing like that?"
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