Thousands of pounds of meth smuggled across border in vegetable shipments

(The Center Square) – Mexican cartels for decades have devised creative ways to smuggle narcotics and other contraband across the southern U.S., including using produce, law enforcement officials say. This month, in one week, thousands of pounds of meth were seized hidden in shipments of peppers, tomatillos and carrots.

At the Otay Mesa, California, cargo facility this month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized large quantities of methamphetamine hidden under packages of the vegetables.

In one instance, CBP officers stopped a 27-year-old male with a valid border crossing card driving a commercial tractor-trailer with a shipment manifested for peppers and tomatillos. At first glance, the shipment appeared to contain only peppers and tomatillos. But after a K-9 unit screened it, officers examined the trailer and found a box containing a crystal-like substance. Additional officers were radioed to provide assistance and began extracting package after package hidden under the produce. They found 3,594 packages that were tested and identified as methamphetamine. The stash totaled 3,671.58 pounds.

The same week, CBP officers at the same facility uncovered another massive load of meth being smuggled in using carrots.

They stopped a 44-year-old man, also a valid border crossing card holder, driving a commercial tractor trailer hauling a shipment manifested as carrots. Officers unloaded the cases of carrots and found suspicious packages hidden underneath, which were tested and identified as methamphetamine. Overall, they seized 574 packages weighing approximately 2,900 pounds.

In both instances, the meth and commercial tractor-trailers were seized; the drivers were turned over to Homeland Security Investigations.

According to Addiction Resource, a lethal dose of methamphetamine is 150 milligrams. However, the lethality of a dose varies, it says, due to how pure or impure it is. Less impurities means the dose is more toxic.

Cartels use several tactics to smuggle drugs and people into the U.S., including “task saturation” and “migrant warfare,” authorities have explained. Surging resources in one area to leave the border open in another area enables cartel operatives and gangs they work with to commit a range of crimes. Another tactic is hiding people and drugs in trucks, including behind or under produce, to bring through ports of entry.

While Border Patrol agents are primarily in the field, CBP officers and canine units work at ports of entry to interdict human and drug smuggling driven by the Sinaloa Cartel, which has taken operational control of the border from California to El Paso, Texas, The Center Square has reported.

The Sinaloa Cartel “is one of the oldest and more established drug trafficking organizations in Mexico,” the DEA explains. “Though its birthplace and stronghold is the Mexican State of Sinaloa, the Sinaloa Cartel controls drug trafficking activity in various regions in Mexico, particularly along the Pacific Coast.”

It uses “violent local street gangs and criminal groups and individuals across the United States to flood American communities with huge amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine, which drives addiction and violence and kills Americans,” The DEA explains. A major port of entry for illicit drugs is California, where they are then distributed throughout the U.S.

Last year, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares led a coalition of 21 attorneys general calling on the president to designate the Sinaloa Cartel, among others, as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. President Joe Biden has not done so although the Texas legislature and governor did last year.

The Department of Justice charged Sinaloa Cartel members and the sons of its former leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, last year. El Chapo is serving life in prison in the U.S. since July 2019. The U.S. Treasury Department has also been sanctioning Sinaloa Cartel members and Mexican companies associated with them for years.

As CBP officers continue to seize large quantities of drugs, California Border Patrol chiefs have warned of increased security threats between ports of entry where checkpoints have been closed due to current administration policies. When deposed by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security during its impeachment investigation of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, they expressed alarm about not knowing how many people or drugs are being smuggled across the border.

Despite being stretched thin, California CBP and Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 500,000 illegal border crossers in fiscal 2023, The Center Square reported.

Record high illegal entries continued along the southwest border in the first quarter of fiscal 2024, with California seeing higher entries as Texas’ resistance grew, The Center Square reported.