In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced in a widely-covered news conference that they had made “the largest seizure of fentanyl in CBP history,” after officers found more than 250 pounds of the drug in a tractor-trailer at the Mariposa Port of Entry.
But a revised indictment filed in July against the driver of the truck listed charges for transporting a combined 47 pounds of fentanyl and its chemical relative, valeryl fentanyl, among other drugs.
Spokespersons from CBP and the Department of Homeland Security said that they could not confirm if the information in the July indictment meant that the drugs had been initially misidentified.
And it was not immediately clear if the amount of fentanyl listed in the indictment would still represent CBP’s largest-ever seizure.
CBP field officers seized 2,006 pounds of fentanyl nationwide between Oct. 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, according to agency statistics.
The January bust stood out for its size and for the heavy media coverage it received.
On Jan. 26, CBP officers sent a tractor-trailer for secondary inspection at the Mariposa port, later discovering hundreds of packages of drugs in a hidden compartment in the trailer, according to court documents.
A criminal complaint dated Jan. 28 stated that “a representative sample of the contents of 94 packages,” totaling 114.3 kilograms, or about 251 pounds, “yielded positive results for the properties of fentanyl.” Another 322 packages, weighing 179.4 kilograms, approximately 396 pounds, were identified as methamphetamine.
On Jan. 31, the agency announced the “record” bust at a news conference attended by more than a dozen U.S. and Mexican media outlets, which featured armed CBP officers guarding a table stacked with sealed packages containing white substances labeled “fentanyl” and “meth.”
At the conference, officials stated that CBP had seized 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of methamphetamine.
In addition to being the agency’s biggest fentanyl seizure, it was the third-largest seizure of methamphetamine at an Arizona port, officials said.
The story made headlines across the U.S. and was also covered in Mexico and the U.K. The president and the official White House twitter account tweeted about it.
The initial indictment against the driver of the truck, 26-year-old Mexican national Juan Antonio Torres-Barraza, was filed in February and listed the same quantities of drugs as the criminal complaint.
But the charges in a superseding indictment, dated July 10, suggest that the quantities of fentanyl and methamphetamine were not as large as officials said.
The July indictment lists charges against Torres-Barraza related to transporting 16.25 kilograms, or 36 pounds, of fentanyl; 4.9 kilograms, or 11 pounds, of valeryl fentanyl; 144.47 kilograms, or 319 pounds, of methamphetamine; 10.01 kilograms, or 22 pounds, of heroin; and 67.7 kilograms, or 149 pounds, of cocaine.
That’s a total of roughly 536 pounds of drugs, compared to a total of 647 pounds in the first indictment.
CBP spokeswoman Teresa Small said that port officers conduct initial tests on seized substances, but do not necessarily test every individual package in a large drug seizure.
She said that minor changes in substance identification are not uncommon after follow-up lab testing, but a discrepancy as large as the one indicated by the superseding indictment against Torres-Barraza would be a “rare circumstance.”
Small added that she was unaware of any changes in the identification of the substances seized in the January bust, but that the agency’s media affairs department did not always receive updated information about follow-up drug testing.
“When we arrest somebody and this goes into the investigative mode and all the court proceedings, we’re not necessarily looped into all those things directly,” she said.
Glenn McCormick, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, declined to comment, and a representative from the office of Matei Tarail, the public defender representing Torres-Barraza, also declined to comment.
Small told the NI on Tuesday that her agency would look into it.
“If that’s the case, what you’re saying, then we definitely do need to follow-up in correcting these things,” she said.
On Thursday, DHS spokesman Felipe Jimenez said that the Drug Enforcement Administration had conducted lab tests on the packages seized in January, but did not provide further information before the NI’s press deadline.
Torres-Barraza’s trial is set to start on Aug. 20 in Tucson District Court, according to the court clerk.
Documents filed by Torres-Barraza’s lawyers indicate that he will plead not guilty.