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U.S. Border Patrol seizes $3.5 million drug load near San Diego

Interior Border Patrol Agents did it again; they snagged $3.5 million in cocaine and marijuana behind a false wall located in a tractor trailer headed to San Diego.

U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to an Interstate 8 checkpoint just east of San Diego arrested a 25-year-old male, U.S. citizen, for smuggling more than 315 pounds of cocaine and 570 pounds of marijuana.

“Agents encountered the man, a resident of Los Angeles, on Friday, at about 11:15 p.m., as he arrived at the checkpoint driving a 1998 Freightliner truck with a trailer. A Border Patrol K-9 team performed a cursory inspection of the truck which resulted in a positive alert to the trailer and the driver was then referred for a secondary inspection,” according to Border Patrol Agent Michael Jimenez.

It was during secondary inspection when agents searched the front of the trailer and discovered a false wall made of metal and plywood. Agents discovered the drugs behind the plywood.

The drugs were wrapped in cellophane. The agents collected 115 bundles of cocaine with a total weight of 315.59 pounds and an estimated street value of $3,156,000. “Agents also discovered eight metal boxes containing 570.22 pounds of marijuana with an estimated value of $342, 000,” Jimenez said.

The suspected drug smuggler was taken into custody and turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for further investigation. The Freightliner truck and trailer used by the suspected smuggler were seized by Border Patrol.

Since October 1, 2010, San Diego Sector Border Patrol agents have seized more than 62,000 pounds of marijuana and 1,270 pounds of cocaine.

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© Copyright 2011 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.

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Another drug cartel tunnel found on the San Diego border

U.S. authorities have reported that a second smuggling tunnel has been uncovered along the Mexican border in San Diego. At least four people were arrested in connection with the tunnel along with a significant amount of marijuana.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that the smuggling tunnel was discovered on Thanksgiving when most Americans were watching football games and eating turkey dinners.

The tunnel itself runs approximately a half-mile in length and started in a Tijuana, Mexico residence and led to a warehouse in Otay Mesa, California.

The San Diego Tunnel Task Force will investigate the details regarding the underground passageway and are working hand-in-hand with Mexican authorities to nab more cartel criminals. The task force is made up of agents from ICE, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

San Diego federal authorities recently discovered a 600- yard long tunnel used to smuggle humans and illicit drugs from Mexico into America on November 2.

The tunnel linked the two countries as builders were able to dig underneath the U.S. border which gave smugglers the ability to use two warehouses, one in Tijuana, Mexico and the other in San Diego as their entry and exit points.

A multi-agency tunnel task force also snagged more than 20 tons of marijuana that was set to make its way into the United States illegal drug market.

The underground tunnel was well equipped, complete with a rail transportation system, lighting and ventilation, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Even though the tunnel used sophisticated construction, it wasn’t large enough for a person to stand up and walk the entire 600-yards.

The tunnel was located after multi-task force agents conducted surveillance on a semi-truck and trailer that was leaving a warehouse near the U.S. border.

Authorities followed the truck to a Border Patrol checkpoint in Temecula on highway 15. At the Border Patrol check point agents searched the truck and found 10 tons of marijuana inside, Amy Roderick of ICE said at a press conference. She said the driver and a passenger were taken into custody and are expected to face multiple federal drug smuggling charges.

Following the seizure, task force agents obtained a search warrant for the warehouse and found the tunnel, according to Roderick.

Once the U.S. warehouse was located ICE alerted Mexican authorities and they found another four tons of marijuana in the Tijuana warehouse where the tunnel ended. Roderick said, the marijuana recovered totaled almost 30 tons and has a street value of at least $20 million.

“What’s unusual about this one is the amount of marijuana found as part of this investigation,” ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack said. “There’s been some pretty big drug busts and we’re not letting our guard down.”

American law enforcement agencies continue to work with their counterparts in Mexico to slow the trafficking of drugs, humans, money and arms that flows both directions across the U.S./Mexico borders.

“We’ve also been enjoying an unprecedented cooperation with Mexican law enforcement in recent years,” Mack explained. “So we get a lot of information from the Mexicans, and vice versa.”

Detailed information provided by ICE said in the last four years there have been more than 75 tunnels discovered by law enforcement agencies. Some of the tunnels were complete while others were only partially finished. A similar tunnel was found in San Diego in January 2006 that also linked the two countries through a warehouse and included sophisticated lighting and ventilation systems.

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© Copyrighted 2010 Kimberly Dvorak all rights reserved

Slowing the tide of drugs entering the U.S. – drug cartels continue violence

Armed cartel members standing post.
Photo: File

Everyday drugs enter the U.S. through the major ports of entry, San Diego, El Paso, Nogales and other smaller ports. The majority of American’s may not be able to comprehend just how much methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and cash enter the country through ports and not across the desert.

“El Paso may be the busiest city in the world in terms of the flow of drugs,” said Special Agent Mike Cordero, a member of the FBI/DEA Strike Force, and drug team established in 2007 to target “the biggest of the big” drug trafficking organizations.

“If they are major players,” Agent Cordero explained, “we’re going after them. Our mission is to disrupt and dismantle these organizations.”

According to the FBI and DEA it is estimated that 40-60 percent of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. come through the border regions surrounding the El Paso, Texas Field Office.

The drugs pour across the border from Juarez, Mexico and U.S. dollars stream back into Mexico completing the drug cycle of life. It is estimated that each month, tens of millions of U.S. dollars head south into Juarez, enabling the cartels to pay off corrupt public officials, procure weapons and engage in other criminal activity like human trafficking or kidnapping.

The targeted law enforcement team in El Paso is one of several located along the Southwest border. FBI and DEA agents are trained to fight the crime and violence associated with the drug cartels.

The program is funded by the “Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a longstanding Department of Justice initiative that combines federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to fight organized crime and drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI have lead roles in operating the strike force,” according to the FBI.

By working with undercover operatives, sources, and Mexican law enforcement, the FBI/DEA team uses an intelligence-driven approach in apprehending drug-related criminals. “Besides orchestrating large drug buys, agents pay close attention to the money laundering aspects of drug trafficking. The actionable intelligence gathered by the strike force benefits many other investigations and law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally,” the FBI said.

In El Paso, the strike force consists of “10 FBI agents and 10 DEA agents.” The specialized team also coordinates with representatives from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

“We are a badge-less operation,” Agent Cordero said. “When you walk in our office, you can’t tell who is FBI and who is DEA. There is a concerted effort to put the cases first and not to worry about who gets the credit,” he added. “It’s a win is a win for everybody.”

The joint-team effort recently participated in a takedown called “Project Deliverance.” The team agents apprehended 133 people on drug charges and seized 800 pounds of marijuana, 11 kilos of cocaine, and nearly $140,000 in cash.

The operation also collected international intelligence for numerous other investigations around the country. “Because El Paso is a pivotal location for the Mexican drug trade,” said Special Agent Raul Bujanda, another member of the strike force, “the intelligence we gather allows us to spin off a lot of cases to other offices.”

However there are those who believe we may be better served to decriminalize drugs in the U.S. and ramp up rehabilitation centers to treat the real addiction problem.

Ryan Hoskins wrote a paper for George Mason University regarding this very issue (Mexico Drug Violence: Why the Merida Initiative, gun bans and border controls will fail and drug reform is the solution).

“It would be great if President Obama would reallocate the money currently set aside for drug interdiction and make an effort to fix the drug addiction problems American’s face each day,” Hoskins proposed.
“During my research (on the drug problems America faces) I came across Portugal’s recent legalization of drugs and I realized we (U.S.) are going about this problem all wrong.”

Hoskins contends that drug usage didn’t increase in Portugal as many expected and police actually handed out more “fix-it” type tickets if you will. “By de-stigmatizing drugs, users were more likely to get treatment,” Hoskins explains.

While America may be a long way from legalizing drugs, states like California are moving forward with adding Marijuana to the okay list. In November, the Golden State’s voters will mark “yes or no” on proposition 19, a ballot initiative legalizing Mexican drug cartel’s biggest money maker- pot.

If the voters approve the measure by large margins, other states in the union are sure to follow suit hoping to earn more taxpayer money. This plays into Hoskins’ hope. “First we need to decriminalize drugs, gain control of the drug problem and then perhaps we can eventually get rid of the black market by legalizing drugs altogether.”

The latter, legalizing drugs would certainly bring an end to most black-market sales, but the notion drugs would be legalized in a country in which excess is the norm, may take a little getting used to.

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House of Death ICE informant "Lalo" freed from prison

It started seven long years ago with Lalo selling his cartel knowledge to the U.S. government. The Mexican national would give America important details regarding the inner workings of drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

It was good information.

Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or ‘Lalo’s’ results-orientated methods earned him recognition with his Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handlers. His work ethic garnered him 60 plus convictions and millions in money and drugs for the prized El Paso ICE office. Lalo’s information was so ironclad, criminals plead guilty and saved the taxpayers the expense of courtroom trials.

Looking back to the days leading up to the January 2004 showdown with ICE and DEA, Lalo began his exit from the dark underworld of drug cartel bosses and the murder that often accompanied the Mexican mafia.

To be honest, Lalo says he was glad to escape with his life. Once the House of Death and 12 murders unraveled; the U.S. knew the jig was up, Lalo began his exit strategy and hoped he’d return to his life in central Mexico.

It didn’t happen.

The U.S. government wanted one more favor from Lalo; they wanted him to lure Santillan, a high-ranking member of the Juarez cartel, into America. Lalo was reluctant because he knew the cartel leaders would figure out that he was a snitch and luring a high-profile drug boss would prevent him from ever returning to his home country.

Lalo reluctantly agreed to lure Santillan and a trap was set in place. Not only did Lalo get the ruthless cartel member to cross the U.S. border, but also he drove him around El Paso as he spilled the beans about the day-to-day operations of the cartel.

After years of undercover work for ICE Lalo’s dangerous cartel job was about to come to an end.

However, the nightmare wasn’t over. He thought he would return to his duties as a father and even began work as a contractor, but Lalo’s world came crashing down when the U.S. government took him into “protective custody.”

“They stole my life,” Lalo explains. “When they (U.S. government) took me into custody they told me it was for my protection, they lied.”

Lalo would spend the next six years in solitary confinement for his supposed protection. “When I went to jail my kids, were kids. Now they are teenagers,” Lalo tearfully describes after being reunited with his children for the first time in six long years.

“The government kidnapped me from my life,” he says.

There is no doubt that the House of Death in Juarez, Mexico remains a black eye in American federal law enforcement history. It was under the watchful eye of the U.S. that a dozen murders were committed and bodies buried in the backyard of the infamous house on 3633 Calle Parsioneros, Juarez, Mexico. The non-descript house is located in a middle-class neighborhood in the most violent city in Mexico.

There were many times when Lalo and his immediate ICE handlers wanted out. Each time they were denied by supervisors who thought the case would make careers – it didn’t.

“It seems like a distant memory now. Had I knew what was in store for me I would have taken my chances in Mexico,” Lalo confesses.

Now that the nightmare is coming to an end Lalo will begin a new life in America. He admits to fears most parents have when it comes to their children. “I just want to take care of them, Maria (the mother of his children) has worked 12 hour days to just get by. I need to begin to make amends to her and the kids,” Lalo says. “I am just happy to finally see my kids.”

Freedom does come with strings in Lalo’s case. He must wear an ankle bracelet and report to immigration officials. His heart is still heavy with stress, as the world has evolved in the past six years.

Lalo’s attorney Jodi Goodwin said she is glad the six-year legal battle has come to a bittersweet ending.

“I guess I’m lucky to have my life and kids who have stayed out of trouble,” he explains.

Like most teenagers Lalo’s kids have acclimated to life in America and have all the latest electronic gadgets that drive most parents crazy. “When I talk to my family now, I can see them on the computer,” Lalo describes his new freedom with computers. “In prison I didn’t have access to television or computers.”

Looking to the future Lalo sees a brighter outlook, one he must prove himself as a father and as a person. “I’ll get back little by little,” he says. “I have to adjust to many things like my son being bigger and taller than myself. He is a young man now.”

“I realize that my kids have their own life now, with school, friends and sports, but I’m hopeful they will have time for their dad.”

The little things most take for granted will now replace Lalo’s mindset. Americans think about eating out as a treat, Lalo looks forward to home-cooked meals, friendly banter with his kids and thinking about what lies ahead. Adjusting to life in America will have its challenges, but Lalo is confident his newfound freedom will lead to a life filled with happiness.

“I will always miss Mexico, it’s my country,” he explains. “Outside the city violence it really is a magical relaxing country. I know I can never return, but I’ll always have my memories.”

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