Officials Report Cocaine Flooding into South Texas

Officials Report Cocaine Flooding into South Texas
Posted by FoM on February 13, 1999 at 10:12:27 PT

 Pressure in the Caribbean and other areas has forced international drug cartels to turn again to Texas as massive caches of cocaine are being found aboard ships, in trucks and, most recently, on an inner-tube flotilla.As for the United States, the budget for fiscal year 2000 includes $50 million to help the Border Patrol implement a system that coordinates infrared and color cameras with ground sensors to help agents catch smugglers along the U.S. - Mexico border. 
Customs Service and Border Patrol seizures in the deep Rio Grande Valley have surged, officials said Friday. "We are being inundated," said Leonard Lindheim, head of Customs investigations for South Texas. "We are out there, and we are finding it. There is no question the money is big time," Lindheim said by phone from his office in San Antonio. In the past two months, cocaine seizures by the Border Patrol in the Valley are up more than four- fold over the same period in 1998. As for Customs, South Texas seizures are up more than five-fold since October, the beginning of the fiscal year. The latest hits came this week when Border Patrol agents seized almost 1 1/2 tons of cocaine near the Valley town of Hidalgo, including 1,900 pounds captured late Thursday. That cocaine, worth more than $65 million on the streets, was being floated across the Rio Grande by a group of more than two dozen men when the effort was discovered. "They get in these large inner- tubes and rig them up like rafts, the bigger the better," said George Garza, head of the patrol's station in McAllen, which includes Hidalgo. "You could call it a 'coke float,' floating across the river," Garza said, referring to the popular soda fountain drink. Agents hid in the brush and used night-vision scopes to watch as the cocaine was loaded into a truck on the U.S. side of the river, he said. The two loads caught near Hidalgo were enough powder for more than 13 million doses of the drug, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington. Robert Mansaw, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said it is tough to be sure how much more cocaine is being pumped through the state. "Organizations shift routes because of pressure in a specific area," he said from DEA headquarters in Houston. "We can't say it's a lot more because we don't know how much more is coming through," said Mansaw, who credited the increased seizures to hard work and good luck. Late last month, federal agents working with the Coast Guard seized 5 tons of cocaine aboard a Panamanian cargo ship bound for Houston. Customs' Lindheim said increased smuggling in the South Texas region is due to pressure by law enforcement officials in the Caribbean and in the Western United States, where smuggling operations were shifted after pressure was increased on the Rio Grande. "We believe this is certainly remnants of the Amado Carrillo Fuentes organization," Lindheim said of the Ciudad Juárez, Mexico- based cartel leader who died two years ago during plastic surgery to hide his identity. Carrillo was known as "Lord of the Skies" for his use of jets to sneak drugs through Mexico, the transshipment point for 75 percent of the cocaine entering the United States. Smugglers will continue poking at U.S. borders looking for ways to sneak their loads into the United States, said an official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "They are always looking for holes in the net to work their way through," said the official who declined to be identified. "If we continue to work well together, Customs, DEA and the Coast Guard, we'll continue to surprise these boys," he said. The shift in seizures comes as Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has unveiled a $500 million program using satellite technology and aircraft for agents battling drug traffickers. 
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