Chicago — Prosecutors say two Chicago cousins stored more than $2.3 million worth of pot inside a South Loop storage locker but got caught because they didn’t pay the rent on time.
Safeguard Self Storage, 1353 South Wabash, has a standing policy: If a customer doesn’t pay their rent for 30 days, an employee opens their storage locker and inventories the contents, prosecutor Adam Sammarco said Tuesday.
On Saturday, a company employee called 911 to report something suspicious inside a locker that had not been paid for since October 31. Then, they unlocked the storage unit so the cops could see it all for themselves.
Inside, police allegedly found 320 pounds of marijuana, about 20,800 vape pen stems, suspected THC, and suspected vape pen oil, Sammarco said.
Chicago cops set up surveillance on the property, and the company reached out to the leaseholder, 25-year-old Henry Pena. On Monday, Pena and his cousin, Alberto Rivera, 28, arrived at the facility in a white pickup truck to “make modifications to the lease,” according to Sammarco.
The police arrested them instead.
Sammarco said Pena admitted leasing the unit for Rivera over a year ago. In exchange, Rivera paid him money and gave him pot every month. Pena allegedly told police that he helped Rivera move sealed boxes of marijuana from the pickup to the storage unit, and, while he never looked inside the boxes, Pena said he knew it was pot because he could smell it.
He told police the storage unit had become “a stress” because of the late payment problem, and he was hoping to swap the lease into Rivera’s name, Sammarco continued.
In addition to the $2,322,384 worth of pot in the storage unit, cops also found marijuana worth $50,802.24 inside the pickup truck the men drove to the locker before being arrested, said Sammarco. Boxes of suspected THC oil were also allegedly found in the vehicle.
Neither man has a criminal background.
Rivera’s defense attorney said he scored a 32 on his ACT and has a degree in business administration from DePaul University.
“This is aggravating,” Judge Maryam Ahmad said of the lawyer’s statements, “because this is someone who is educated and knows the damage that cannabis causes to communities, such large quantities.”
As a result, the judge said, she would use the value of the seized cannabis to establish Rivera’s bail amount: $2.5 million. He must pay 10% of that to get out of jail and provide documentation that shows his bail money did not come from marijuana sales, she said.
Pena’s public defender argued that Pena’s involvement was “limited to having his name registered as the owner” before Ahmad cautioned the attorney to “be careful what you say … tread carefully.”
Ahmad then set Pena’s bail at $20,000, meaning he must post $2,000 to get out of jail.