Minnesota state troopers uncovered a more-than-170-pound drug cache that included fentanyl powder, methamphetamine and cocaine when they stopped a man on his drive back from Mexico, according to new federal charges unsealed this week.

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Rito Gaxiola Jr., on one count of possession with intent to distribute those controlled substances — which also included more than 39,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills suspected to contain fentanyl.

Gaxiola, 40, a Minnesota resident, was first charged in a sealed criminal complaint in October 2022, days after law enforcement found the narcotics in his 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee as he re-entered the state. A federal magistrate judge unsealed the case Wednesday at the request of prosecutors. Gaxiola does not yet have an attorney listed as representing him. According to court records, Gaxiola was arrested in Los Angeles on Feb. 7, and is in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service there to be transferred to Minnesota to face charges.

According to the criminal complaint, law enforcement seized large quantities of narcotics in various parts of his Jeep on Oct. 18, 2022. The alleged haul: 52 pounds of fentanyl powder, 45 pounds of methamphetamine, 68 pounds of cocaine and 8.5 pounds of fentanyl pills — or more than 39,000 pills.

Law enforcement noted that the pills were suspected to be counterfeit oxycodone that instead contained fentanyl, a tactic that investigators said has become more prevalent "over the past several years."

That single October 2022 bust of Gaxiola would rival what authorities called the biggest fentanyl haul in state history. The six people charged in that case are accused of trafficking hundreds of thousands of pills from Arizona, using the mail to send toy animals stuffed with the pills. That case involves allegations of a monthslong conspiracy, spanning August through December 2022, totaling 66 pounds of fentanyl seized.

But Gaxiola is accused of being caught with more than 60 pounds of fentanyl during the single traffic stop, between the 52 pounds of powder and 8.5 pounds of pills.

Federal law enforcement have been trying to crack down on a Mexico-to-Minnesota pill pipeline and the Drug Enforcement Administration's work investigating fentanyl trafficking became a staple of the latest chapter in U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger's ongoing street gang focus. Federal authorities in November charged two Arizona suppliers of fentanyl linked to Minneapolis street gangs as part of an indictment yielding 11.6 kilograms of seized fentanyl pills.

According to charges, Gaxiola has a history of controlled substance convictions and once escaped from Duluth's Federal Prison Camp, remaining a fugitive for nearly four months.

He fled the camp months into serving a 10-year federal sentence and was arrested again in 2017 for third-degree possession of a controlled substance in Le Sueur County, Minn. Gaxiola received another 42 months in state prison for that conviction. That also violated his federal release terms and he remained on an extended federal supervised release until November 2020.

According to the new charges, law enforcement "began developing information that Gaxiola was involved in the distribution of controlled substances" over the fall of 2022.

Investigators determined that Gaxiola was traveling to and from Minnesota, Mexico and California. Gaxiola drove to Mexico on Sep. 29, 2022, and flew back to Minnesota on Oct. 11. Investigators then observed him driving from Minnesota to Los Angeles on Oct. 15, where he spent about 27 hours before appearing to begin a return journey to Minnesota. Law enforcement tracked his travel back to the state, and a Minnesota state trooper stopped him about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 18. A police dog detected the odor of controlled substances.

The DEA reported in January that Minnesota experienced the biggest rise in fentanyl seizures among the five Midwestern states in its field division last year. Rafael Mattei, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA's Minneapolis-St. Paul district office, called it a "dire situation" and did not forecast a decline or plateau in the foreseeable future.

Investigators in the state recovered more than 417,000 pills last year, up 127% over 2022. Mattei said that methamphetamine seizures in Minnesota have remained around 900 pounds or more each of the past two years. The state also saw a surge in cocaine seizures in 2023, 345 pounds, up from 69 a year earlier.