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Nogales CBP officers seize record-breaking 250-lb load of fentanyl

Nogales-area Customs and Border Protection officers seized 254 pounds of fentanyl Saturday — worth $3.5 million, it was the largest single seizure of the drug in CBP history. The haul was discovered at a border crossing, along with nearly 400 pounds of meth.

A 26-year-old Mexican man was arrested after CBP officers at the Mariposa Port of Entry discovered nearly 650 pounds of methamphetamine and fentanyl worth a combined $4.6 million, said Michael Humphries, the port director for Nogales, during press conference Thursday.

The drugs were found hidden in "non-factory compartment," beneath the floor of semi-trailer laden with cucumbers, Humphries said. 

Inside the compartment, CBP officers found "numerous packages" including packages of powdered fentanyl and fentanyl pills. CBP officers also found packages of methamphetamine in the compartment that weighed a total of 395 pounds, worth an estimated $1.1 million. 

The seizure of methamphetamine was the third-largest seizure in Arizona, Humphries said at the press conference. 

As Customs officers armed with M4 rifles flanked a table loaded with packages of the drugs, officials warned reporters to stay behind a black line because the drugs were so potent. 

"Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine," said Humphries, adding that a dose of fentanyl the size of a few grams of salt "can kill a person very quickly." 

The record-breaking seizure comes as the White House and Congress remain at loggerheads over border security spending, largely over a demand from President Donald Trump that Congress authorize more than $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall. 

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After the government shutdown in December, the White House demanded $12 billion in additional spending for the Department of Homeland Security. This included $211 million to hire another 750 Border Patrol agents, another $571 million for 200 more ICE agents and staff, along with $563 million to hire 75 additional immigration judges, and $4.2 billion to expand detention capacity to 52,000 beds, likely including new family detention facilities.

The administration also asked for another $675 million for screening technology at U.S. ports, dramatically increasing the administration's original budget proposal of $44 million for "non-intrusive inspection" technology, including the Rapiscan system, which can x-ray entire tractor-trailers, along with passenger cars. 

Saturday's drug seizure came after the driver was sent to a secondary inspection area where CBP officers used a Rapiscan system and identified "voids" in the truck's trailer. A drug-sniffing dog then inspected the trailer, and "alerted" to an odor, Humphries said. 

"Opioids are real danger to every community in American and are having fatal consequences in many cases," Humphries said, and he thanked CBP personnel, adding that they work "24 by 7 by 365 .... Even during the difficult times such as our funding hiatus."

Humphries said that the seizure came at a busy time for the Nogales ports, where officers can expect to see 1,500 trucks pass through every day, and rely on "layered enforcement," to discover and seize drugs. This includes intelligence, as well as non-instructive inspections and drug dogs, as well as  "officer intuition" as they measure the reactions of drivers during interview questions, Humphries said. 

He added that officers have seen this type of compartment or "false floor" at several different ports.  

Juan Mariscal, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Nogales, said the the investigation was ongoing. The driver faces two counts of drug smuggling, and HSI agents would work to prosecute "all involved in this case" to disrupt the smuggling organization, Mariscal said. 

"This arrest and drug seizure, like some many others, is a true testament to how agencies can work together to ensure that these deadly drugs don't make their way into our communities," said Mariscal. "One kilogram of fentanyl produces one million fatal doses." 

In recent years, while seizures have marijuana have fallen, seizures of methamphetamine and fentanyl have increased dramatically at U.S. ports. "Over the last few years, marijuana has decreased and hard narcotics such an fentanyl have increased," Humphries said. 

From 2016 to 2018, seizures of fentanyl more than doubled from around 440 pounds to 1,357 pounds, while methamphetamine increased 78 percent from 37,703 pounds to 67,292 pounds. 

Meanwhile, marijuana seizures declined 45 percent. 

Mariscal said that group behind the smuggling attempt was a "well-organized" group that "knows what they're doing," based on the size of the load and how it was concealed, said Mariscal. 

"Smugglers they don't stop, they continue to smuggle whether the government is open or not, it doesn't matter what time of day, they continue with their operations," said Mariscal. "And so do we." 

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5 comments
Jan 31, 2019, 4:27 pm
-0 +1

what?  you mean it was seized at a port of entry and not in the desert where a wall would have stopped it?

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers flank more than $4.6 million in fentanyl and methamphetamine, representing the largest seizure in CBP history of fentanyl and the third largest seizure of methamphetamine in Arizona.

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