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Cold stash: A/C unit on RV held $4.4M in fentanyl & meth

A Phoenix-area man was arrested on Monday after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found nearly $4.4 million in drugs—a "massive" haul that included 800 pounds of methamphetamine, and more than 110 pounds of fentanyl—at the border crossing in Lukeville, Ariz.

The 47-year-old man was driving a 2008 Roadmaster RV on Valentine's Day through the port of entry at Lukeville, 110 miles southwest of Tucson, when he was sent to a secondary inspection area by CBP officers. There, a drug dog alerted to the presence of narcotics, leading officials to discover 129 packages of drugs stashed an air-conditioning unit mounted on the roof, said Rob Daniels, a CBP spokesman.

Daniels called the stash "massive."

Peter Bachelier, the director for the Lukeville Port of Entry, praised his officers for the seizure. "Our CBP officers remain focused on their mission of protecting our nation’s borders and keeping dangerous drugs from reaching our communities," he said.

Last December, CBP officers in Nogales, Ariz., made a "record-breaking" seizure of methamphetamine, when they discovered nearly 3,300 pounds of the drug worth an estimated $7.7 million stashed among a shipment of auto parts. 

Over the last four years, methamphetamine seizures, along with fentanyl, have rapidly increased as drug-smuggling organizations appear to be shifting away from bulky marijuana shipments to drugs that are easier to conceal.

While politician have often argued for tighter restrictions along the border between the ports, the nation's border crossings continue to be where the largest seizures of drugs occur as officials with CBP's Office of Field Operations—which manages the U.S. ports and airports—intercept drugs hidden inside passenger cars and commercial vehicles, and even carried across the border by individuals.

So far this fiscal year, which began on October 1, CBP agents and officers seized over 58,431 pounds of methamphetamine, around 2,700 pounds of fentanyl, and nearly 17,000 pounds in cocaine. Officials also intercepted nearly 50,000 pounds of khat—a stimulate that comes from Ethiopia.

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Over the last several years, fentanyl and methamphetamine have increasingly replaced marijuana as a drug smuggled through U.S. ports. While heroin has remained relatively steady, and cocaine seizures have increased moderately, fentanyl suddenly began arriving in U.S. ports during the fiscal year of 2016. Since then, smuggling of the drug has ramped up, according to data from CBP.

In the fiscal year of 2015, CBP officers seized nearly 603,000 pounds of marijuana, but during the same time period last year, officers seized just 319,447 pounds.

Meanwhile, fentanyl seizures increased from just 440 pounds in 2016 to over 11,000 pounds last year, agency statistics show.

Similarly, methamphetamine increased from around 29,000 pounds in 2015 to 190,861 in 2021.

Meanwhile, seizures by U.S. Border Patrol agents are a small portion of the total. In 2021, Border Patrol agents seized nearly 11,800 pounds of methamphetamine and around 1,000 pounds of fentanyl, largely at checkpoints spread across the Southwestern border.

CBP officers seized the drugs and vehicle, while the man was handed over to Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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