Meth bust

The drugs were hidden beneath a “modified floor” in a trailer loaded with tomatoes and bell peppers.

Port officers in Nogales nabbed a record-breaking meth load last week, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Port Director Mike Humphries.

The bust, which consisted of more than 600 packages totaling 690.5 pounds of methamphetamine, was discovered in a hidden compartment in the floor of a tractor-trailer at the Mariposa Port of Entry last Monday, March 9.

It was the largest seizure of methamphetamine made at an Arizona Port of Entry, Humphries said.

“Those drugs weren’t coming to Nogales, Ariz., 20,000 people here. It was going to be distributed throughout the United States,” Humphries said. “So the fine officers here did a great job being vigilant and focused on their priorities and prevented all of this from entering into the United States.”

The March 9 bust was part of a busy period from March 5-10 in which local officers seized methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and cocaine from commercial vehicles, personal vehicles and pedestrians, totaling over 1,000 pounds of drugs headed to the United States, as well as 4,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition headed for Mexico, according to Humphries.

But the port director said the March 9 seizure stood out: “We’re not dealing with a street peddler or anything like that. We’re dealing with a major international criminal organization… just because of the sheer amount.”

CBP officers referred the tractor-trailer, which was also carrying tomatoes and bell peppers, for secondary inspection by a drug-sniffing dog, which alerted to the vehicle. Officers subsequently unloaded the legitimate cargo and discovered the drugs beneath a “modified floor” in the trailer.

The driver of the truck, a 34-year-old Mexican man, was taken into custody by Homeland Security Investigations. There were no other occupants in the vehicle.

The next day, local officers seized 160 pounds of methamphetamine in a bust that also included heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.

Substance abuse, Humphries said, “affects hospitals, insurance companies, it breaks families apart. So for the officers here to stop – in just two days – 850 pounds of meth, is a huge deal.”

‘Record’ confusion

While federal officials trumpet some large drug seizures as “records,” the designation has raised questions in some recent cases.

In a December 2019 news release, CBP stated a recent 109-pound heroin bust was the “the largest heroin seizure at an Arizona Port.”

But an indictment filed in October 2019, prosecutors charged a local man with attempting to carry 81.1 kilograms (approximately 179 pounds) of heroin through the DeConcini port on Oct. 9, 2019.

Humphries said on Tuesday that statistics released by his office are vetted by agency staff in Washington, D.C.

And in other cases, the size of drug seizures announced by CBP agents doesn’t line up with documents later filed by prosecutors.

In January 2019, CBP announced that officers had discovered more than 250 pounds of fentanyl in a tractor trailer at the Mariposa port, which the agency called “the largest seizure of fentanyl in CBP history.”

But a revised indictment filed against the driver of that truck adjusted the total weight of drugs involved from 647 to 536 pounds and the total amount of fentanyl dropped from 114.3 kilograms (about 251 pounds) in the first indictment to 16.25 kilograms (about 36 pounds) in the revised indictment.

Humphries said that officers at ports of entry use field testing and don’t necessarily test every package in a large drug load, meaning that quantities can change after lab testing is performed on individual packages.

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