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Drug smuggling a low payday for many

Smuggling drugs across the border in Southern Arizona can mean just a few hundred dollars for many, but U.S. border agents gone bad can be paid $50,000 for large loads. Juveniles carrying small amounts of marijuana are paid the least.

"When it comes to moving drugs in the local area, or out of it, the payment smugglers receive ranges widely," reporter Murphy Woodhouse wrote for the Nogales International.

"A number of factors are at play behind the compensation offered, including age, nationality, the type of drugs and their weight, the experience of the smuggler and the sort of smuggling work being done, several law enforcement officials who work on local drug cases said," he reported.

From the Nogales newspaper:

On Nov. 9, 2014, Jorge Alberto Saracho Velarde, 37, approached the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry with 26 pounds of cocaine, which was eventually found in his Chevy truck’s tires by port officials.

Before being sentenced to 2.5 years in prison at Santa Cruz County courts, the Caborca, Sonora resident told a probation officer that he had been promised $2,000 for the load if he was successful in delivering it.

Just over a year later, then-Border Patrol agent and Rio Rico resident Juan Pimentel, 47, was pulled over on Interstate 10 northwest of Tucson with more than 100 pounds of the same drug hidden in several suitcases. Pimentel allegedly told one of the arresting officers that he had known about the drugs and was taking them to Chicago in exchange for $50,000, meaning he was expecting 25 times the payout for just four times as much coke as Saracho had carried. Pimentel, of course, had a much longer drive than Saracho and a federal badge to boot.


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But for a lot of would-be smugglers, the payouts, coming under $4,000 for most and under $1,000 for many, especially minors, pale in comparison to the legal consequences faced by those who are caught, said Hugh Odom, a long-time adult probation officer in Santa Cruz County.

Read the complete story: From $300 to $50,000 per load, smuggling wages range widely

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In 2013, Customs and Border Protection officers at a Nogales border crossing apprehended a 43-year-old Nogales, Sonora, woman when additional inspections showed she was hiding $11,361 in unreported U.S. currency in her purse. The woman told officers she was being paid to carry the funds, which came from drug sales, back to Mexico.