Commonwealth's Attorney James P. Baber, who rarely prosecutes anybody in a courtroom and who likes it that way, knew there was going to be trouble when an exuberant Virginia state trooper called him last December in the middle of the night.
Baber, who smokes a pipe and raises cows, reluctantly left his farm and drove out to Bear Creek Road. About six miles from the county seat, he stopped his car and took a long, sad look at what had riled up the police-13,629 pounds of Colombian marijuana, the second largest haul of drugs in Virginia history.
Baber remembers thinking, "Oh, hell."
The drug bust in Cumberland County, a remote southside Virginia farm area, shocked Baber and local residents into a realization: Their isolation and lack of law-enforcement sophistication makes them an easy target for the growing and highly lucrative business of drug smuggling in the Middle Atlantic state-a business for which Washington is a major market.
The bust also has attracted some of the best defense lawyers in Virginia to Cumberland County to defend the eight people arrested in connection with the drug seizure. Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., and eloquent courtroom prosecutor, has been invited down to do battle with the high-priced legal talent. And a disgruntled Baber says the whole drug thing is going to be a pain in the neck.
The last marijuana case in Cumberland County, population 6,179, was when Barber reprimanded a local high school boy for selling a joint. "Actually," Barber said, "I think it was a piece of a joint."
Yet, a little past midnight on Dec. 22, a nervous team of 30 Virginia State Police, federal drug enforcement agents and Cumberland County sheriff's deputies silently surrounded a tractor-trailer parked near the southern edge of the Cumberland State Forest. Inside, they found three men with 338 bales of marijuana.
Later that day, acting on leads from the raid, state police entered a motel room at the Richmond Hyatt House in suburban Henrico County. They found $1.8 million in cash in $20 and $100 bills, stuffed in four brown American Tourister suitcases. Police said it was the largest haul of currency ever confiscated in connection with a crime in Virginia.
The biggest news in Cumberland County this part year-besides the drug bust-occurred when a deer hunter mistakenly shot and killed an arabian horse. So many residents were surprised, and even scared, therefore, by word that their county, where chicketn raising and tobacco growing are primary occupation, was intended to become a major distribution center for marijuana in the Uited States."Oh, my goodness, we didn't know what was going on," said a librarian at the two-room country library.
"It was the talk of the town, at church and everywhere. It was exciting to the people, it was exciting to me," said a clerk at Flippens Store Inc.
The owner of Flippens general store, Louis P. Pfeiffer, said the preliminary hearing in the drug case three weeks ago brought people to town "who dressed like the was coming out of New York. They wore ties and had briefcases. You ain't never seen the like."
Prosecutor Baber, 42, who owns 40 cows and nine horses, recalls his reaction to big-time drug smuggling: "This is an awful lot of work. My county is one wher we are accustomed to six or eight indictments a year. This is a lot of hassle."
Baber said that on the night he found out about the drugs he thought over his options for about 10 seconds and arrived at a solution-he would call his friend Horan, a prosecutor who loves high drama in the courtroom and who hates drugs.
Baber called Horan and said, "You aren't going to believe what we've got down here."
Horan, a 12-year veteran prosecutor who is upfor reelection this fall, said he would be happy to help out. Meanwhile, the eight defendants in the case, most of whom list Florida addresses, sought out their own heavy-hitting legal help.
"Their attorneys read like a Who's who in the Virginia Bar." Horan said. The list includes prominent lawyers from Richmond, Charlottesville and Virginia Beach.
None of the lawyers with their ties and their briefcase would be coming to the September trial of the accused drug smugglers had it not been for a farmer named Willard W. Lane Jr., who lives about 70 miles east of Cumberland County.
Lane, who takes care of some land in Surry County that borders the south bank of the James River, noticed on Dec. 12 that a chain across a road that leads to the river had been taken down. He went down to the river, round 17 bales of marijuana and called the state police.
As the smuggling operation has been pieced together by police and prosecutors, the marijuana came up the James River about a 73-foot fishing trawler, the Gulf Star, which is registered in Florida. The Gulf Star anchored in the river on Dec. 6 and 7, and bales of marijuana were taken ashore aboard inflatable "Zodiac rafts.
The bales were loaded on an 18-wheel truck by conveyor belt at the river bank. The leftover that famrer Lane spotted on the bank were waste-only a big-time smuggling operation could afford to waste $136,000 worth of product, police say. The loaded truck was driven to Cumberland County, passing along the way, state police headquarter near Richmond.
Drug enforcement authorities say the Cumberland operation was similar to what is going on board a fleet of boats running drugs into Maryland and Virginia. Last Sunday, seven tons of marijuana was seized aboard a sailboat in the Potomac River and similar seizures along the east coast have become more and more frequent.
Officials claim they do not have the money or the manpower to keep up with smugglers in the rivers and bays of the Middle Atlantic states.
The Gulf Star, which has been seized in Norfolk harbor, had traces of marijuana in its hold indicating that it had at one time carried 24 tons of the drug, worth nearly $9 million wholesale, police said. Police speculate some of the marijuana not recovered already had been sold when they made their bust in Cumberland County.
While some of the local people in Cumberland County are anxiously awaiting the September drug trials, with the excitement and new faces that will be attracted to the court house, prosecutor Baber says he wishes the alleged drug smugglers had chosen somewhere else to make their millions.
"For me, it is one hell of a sweat," Baber said. CAPTION: Map, The Cumberland Connection, By Richard Furno - The Washington Post