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Truckload of bell peppers, tomatoes stuffed with 'historic' amount of meth

Bust part of busy week at Nogales border crossing, port director says

A semi-trailer of bell peppers and tomatoes crossing the border in Nogales was also stuffed with 690 pounds of methamphetamine worth around $690,000, said area U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

This was the largest seizure of meth in Arizona ports history, said Michael Humphries, the Nogales port director.

CBP officers made the seizure on March 9 when a drug dog at the Mariposa Cargo Facility led CBP officers to discover a false floor in the trailer. The driver, identified only as a 34-year-old Mexican national, was arrested and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

"As proud partners of CBP, we stand ready to investigate drug seizures discovered at the ports of entry by those who are uniquely qualified in stopping attempts of illicit drugs from entering the United States," said Juan Mariscal, the Nogales assistant special agent in charge for HSI. "HSI remains dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to keep our communities safe."

Methamphetamine seizures have increased year after year at U.S. ports, rising from 19,613 pounds during fiscal year 2014 to 68,585 pounds in fiscal year 2019. 

Fiscal year 2020 is on track to easily surpass 2019's numbers, after CBP officers seized 62,645 pounds in just five-and-a-half months. 

The bust was part of a busy week of seizures at the Nogales port, which includes the Mariposa and Dennis DeConcini border crossings, Humphries said. 

On Thursday, March 5, CBP officers found 51.8 pounds of heroin, 4.2 pounds of meth, and a half-pound of fentanyl in a private vehicle. "You know, almost 52 pounds of heroin is huge," Humphries said. "Emergency rooms are overfilled with people who have addictions, or are sick from opioid overdoses, so for our officers to stop that, it’s helping families from being torn apart," he said. 

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Later that same day, CBP officers found 5.7 pounds of heroin hidden in the seats of a bus. Officers couldn't identify the person who was smuggling the drugs in that case, Humphries said. 

That same day, CBP officers also intercepted nearly 4,000 rounds of 7.62 x 39mm rounds, usually used for AK-47-style semi-automatic rifles heading outbound into Mexico. 

The following day, on Friday, March 6, CBP officers seized one-third of a pound of fentanyl in pills, carried by a person in a body cavity, through the pedestrian crossing, he said. 

The next day, CBP officers made a record seizure, and if that wasn't enough, the next day, officers seized 160 pounds of meth, nearly eight pounds of heroin, along with 7 pounds of cocaine, and 8 pounds of fentanyl.

"In the case of fentanyl, before 2015 we never really used to see it, but we've had record loads," he said. "It just takes a small amount of get someone sick, because it's much more potent, 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. So, we place the highest priority on this, stopping both opioids and synthetic opioids, because they're destroying our community every day." 

"I’m really proud of the hard work here, you don’t open a trunk and it’s there looking you in the eye," Humphries said. "We’ve got drugs hidden in car axles, in working engines, in compartments," he said. Officers have to be "really vigilant, they're really taking this all seriously, and they’re coming up with great results." 

"Right now, emergency rooms are filled with other kind of cases, including cases with the coronavirus, but with this, people are dying of opioids too. And, it not just coming to Nogales, which is a small city, but going to the rest of the nation," he said.  Intercepting dangerous drugs have to "remain a high priority of ours, we want to stop dangerous drugs, so we focus a lot of resources on just that," he said. 

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A semi-tractor trailer carrying bell peppers and tomatoes also contained 690 pounds of methamphetamine worth around $690,000. Nogales-area Customs and Border Protection officers said the seizure was the largest in Arizona ports history.