Drug Smugglers Seeing Green 

Drug Smugglers Seeing Green 
Posted by FoM on May 01, 2000 at 08:19:43 PT
By Mitchel Maddux, Staff Writer
Source: Bergen Record
First, they intercepted watermelons, then cauliflower. After that came sweet yellow peppers.Last week, State Police in Ridgefield impounded yet another big truck hauling drugs smuggled in crates of produce. This time it was Spanish onions, which that concealed a ton of marijuana.
Over the past 18 months, New Jersey state troopers have intercepted at least four shipments of cocaine and marijuana hidden in truckloads of vegetables and fruit, two of them in Bergen County. The total estimated street value of the drugs exceeds $175 million.The seizures underscore what federal law enforcement officials say is a growing trend: Taking advantage of the vibrant border commerce with Mexico since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), drug trafficking organizations are moving illicit narcotics in shipments of produce.Given the increased volume of trucks that enter the United States from Mexico, U.S. Customs officials at border checkpoints are spending less time inspecting loads of fruit and vegetables, lest they wither in the sweltering heat if unloaded and left out in the sun, investigators say. So hiding drugs among produce has become a method of choice for smugglers south of the border."It's practically impossible for them to pull over each and every [produce] truck," said Robert D. Mansaw, an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Houston office, which investigates narcotics smuggling along in the eastern Rio Grande valley. "They know that any delay is going to cause problems as far as spoilage of the product."So [drug traffickers] are using legitimate freight such as fruit and vegetables to secrete their drugs and get them across the border," Mansaw said. "A lot of time the perishables go right through."Once they've cleared Customs, trucks carrying drugs in fruit and vegetable loads usually head for a distribution warehouse near the border or continue on to metropolitan centers in the United States, he said.In New Jersey, three of the recent produce-related seizures were made by state troopers at rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike.The turnpike is one of the prinicipal principal arteries used by Mexican-based drug cartels to haul cocaine and marijuana to the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, where the drugs are distributed to wholesalers and then street dealers, federal law enforcement officials said.In the most recent seizure, state troopers on patrol Tuesday in Ridgefield last on Tuesday became suspicious Tuesday of a 1994 Freightliner tractor-trailer bearing Texas license plates that was parked at the Vince Lombardi Service Center Area on the Tturnpike, said John Hagerty, a state police spokesman.Narcotics detectives interviewed a man believed to be the truck's driver and obtained consent from him to search the trailer, Hagerty said.After finding the ton of marijuana in crates of rotting Spanish onions, the detectives charged the trucker, 30-year-old Erasto Herrera of Gardena, Calif., with possession of narcotics with the intent to distribute them, Hagerty said. State police estimated the street value of the marijuana at $15 million.Troopers made another seizure at the same rest stop on Feb. 8, finding 1,900 pounds of marijuana and 850 kilos kilograms of cocaine hidden in boxes of rotting yellow peppers that were being moved by van to a Fairview warehouse. Authorities said the drugs were worth $100 million on the street.On Jan. 25, 1999, troopers raided a warehouse off Route 3 in Secaucus, where they seized 1,200 kilos of cocaine worth an estimated $30 million that was hidden in frozen cauliflower. The vegetables were sitting on pallets that had been off-loaded from a tractor-trailer that authorities said had traveled from Hildago, Hidalgo, CQ Texas, in the Rio Grande valley.On Sept. 4, 1998, state troopers in South Jersey impounded a tractor-trailer that had been carrying 1,200 kilos of cocaine -- worth an estimated $24.4 million on the street -- hidden in the crates of watermelon.By slipping into the stream of NAFTA commerce, authorities say, drug traffickers have increased their chances of success.Federal officials acknowledge that they cannot search every inch of each truck that comes across the border -- and there are more coming in every day. Since the trade agreement took effect in 1994, imports from Mexico have soared, rising from $27 billion to nearly $110 billion over the past decade.Because of the trade pact, tariffs on certain Mexican fruits and vegetables are disappearing. Consequently, imports of Mexican produce have also increased. For example, the volume of bell peppers from Mexico rose 53 percent from 1993- to 1998 so that today nearly one-quarter of all bell peppers consumed in the United States reportedly were grown in Mexico."We try to not do damage to the produce, especially on hot days," said Maria P. Reba, field operations director for the U.S. Customs Service in South Texas. "Some of the produce trucks don't get looked at, because we can't look at every truck."At the crossing in Laredo, Texas, the Southwest border checkpoint with the most commercial traffic, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 trucks enter the country from Mexico every day."You've got a couple miles of semis just waiting -- miles and miles, waiting at the border checkpoint," Mansaw said. "If there are three semis loaded with illegal freight, and two of the three are caught, the one getting over is still going to make a profit."Mexico-based traffickers are the principal truckers of drugs for Colombian cartels to North Jersey and the metropolitan area, said Anthony J. Senneca, the agent in charge of the DEA's Newark Division. "I would say that 90 percent of the stuff coming in on trucks is coming from the Southwest border, which is clearly controlled by Mexican groups," he said.However, thanks to new technology and strategic deployment of inspectors, "we've gotten a lot better at" detecting contraband, said Reba said. In fact, she said, truckloads of fruit and vegetables raise "a red flag" for some inspectors.On March 11, for example, Customs agents stopped a truck loaded with papayas at the border crossing in Pharr CQ , Texas. Using a new gamma-ray imaging system, they detected 1,555 pounds of marijuana hidden in bundles beneath the trailer's floor.Three days earlier in Pharr, inspectors using an X-ray device found 1,370 pounds of marijuana in a false wall of a trailer hauling a cargo of limes.Another truck stopped there on Feb. 16 yielded 1,975 pounds of marijuana hidden in a secret roof compartment, after inspectors used the gamma-ray device to check out a load of cantaloupes.Reba acknowledged that her inspectors nonetheless face a daunting task, given the rising levels of imports from Mexico."There are an awful lot more trucks than there were 10 years ago," she said, "so there are more places for them to hide."Even more difficult is getting to the source of the drugs.Truckers handling the contraband usually have been told very little by their bosses: Sometimes they only have only a pager number and a code number to contact the drug wholesalers once they have arrived in the metropolitan area, Senneca said. This makes tracing the shipment back to the upper levels of the organization extremely difficult."The murkiest part is trying to get back to the Mexican-based transportation groups," Seneca Senneca CQ said. "Their ablity ability to drop everything and start over is incredible."If they lost a load, for example, they immediately get a lawyer and find out how this guy get got caught. They immediately abandon a warehouse, get new pager numbers, new cell phone numbers -- and all you've got is a ghost."Published: May 1, 2000Copyright  2000 Bergen Record Corp.
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Comment #2 posted by Ramon Arellano Felix on May 04, 2000 at 18:06:59 PT:
we are not stoping
dear people, i whas looking at this news u guys are missing the point, no body,revission, dea, fbi, cops,costoms or any other checkpoint wll ever stop drug coming in to u.s some oficials work whith us other have no time to check every truck we send and some times we let you know wich to stop and wihch let GO in other words catch small fish and the big shark will swim.                 Any ways that is not the only way we use AIR,SEA,TRAIN,TUNNELS,AIR LANES, TOURISM, POLITICS,AND MORE.  Im workig whith my brothers and I have the total control of mexican north cartel: (tijuana) and now we are doing busines with our paisano Don MARTIN LIZARRAGA new head and capo dei capi of cartel del golfo after AMADO CARRILLO FELIX die all the sinaloas drug dealers got togheter and stop a war and killig eachothers and now we work whith armony.    Im sending this masage not because I wanna tell my bussines the thing is is funny for me sending you staff and comunicating whith you and at the same time be one of the most wanted for the F.B.I, D.E.A AND INTERPOL
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on May 01, 2000 at 08:24:31 PT
Just a note
I tried to catch the typo errors in the article but I missed a few. Thought I'd mention it!
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