Caught. Kings Cross identity Adam Freeman.

Caught. Kings Cross identity Adam Freeman. Photo: Mick Tsikas

It was on a lonely highway leading out of a tiny NSW town, along way from the so-called Golden Mile, where a Kings Cross identity's drug empire began to unravel.

A white van driving along the Kamilaroi Highway just outside the north-western township of Quirindi, population 2500, was pulled over for a routine breath test.

While the highway patrol officer was carrying out the test on December 19, 2010, he struck up a lengthy conversation with the two men inside the hired van. The longer they spoke, the more the officer's suspicions rose.

''When he started to question the individuals, nothing was weighing up,'' Detective Superintendent Stuart Smith says. '''Why are you here? What are you doing?' There was a whole lot of elements that come together and led him to think 'I need to search this.'''

What he found in the back was a collection of glassware - the type used in large-scale illegal drug labs, which was enough for him to arrest both men.

The drug squad came and searched the rest of the van, uncovering 19.5 kilograms of uncut MDEA, another form of the drug ecstasy, hidden in plastic bags within white buckets filled with sand. The haul was enough for at least 650,000 hits, which conservative estimates put at being worth about $19.5 million.

Fingerprints on the glassware led police to their next target, Adam Freeman, Kings Cross nightclub owner and son of late underworld figure George Freeman. Freeman fled the country the day after his two friends were arrested but eventually returned home, handing himself in and in September pleading guilty to making a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug. His co-accused received nine years' jail and Freeman will be sentenced in the new year.

It was NSW's largest mobile drug bust and it came about thanks to a random breath test.

The Freeman bust was the result of CATCH - Crime and Traffic Connecting on Highways - a program adapted from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and introduced among more than 800 highway patrol officers across the state starting in 2009.

Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn says it is aimed at having Highway Patrol officers not just focus on speeding, drunk drivers and unregistered cars but to look for other suspicious activity.

''It isn't this amazing formula that we haven't thought about before,'' Ms Burn says. ''But when we started CATCH it became about observational skills, some common sense, simple detection techniques, so if there is something illegal happening we are likely to detect it.''

In the four years since the launch CATCH highway patrol officers have detected $86 million in drugs, firearms and stolen property.

This month it resulted in officers pulling over an unregistered Holden Astra at Goulburn and finding a woman with 296 ecstasy tablets.

In Punchbowl highway patrol officers this year pulled over a hire car and found a fully-loaded Beretta handgun and cocaine hidden in the driver's underpants.