Agents Raid Valley Drug Stash House! 

Agents Raid Valley Drug Stash House! 
Posted by FoM on March 11, 1999 at 08:18:02 PT

LAREDO Federal agents stormed a Rio Grande Valley stash house as part of a seizure of enough marijuana for more than 4 million cigarettes, officials said Wednesday. 
Shortly after U.S. Customs Service agents and local law enforcement officers found 3,600 pounds of the drug at a Mission-area residence, an additional 1,000 pounds, believed to belong to the same smuggling organization, were found nearby on the banks of the Rio Grande. In addition to the marijuana, agents seized $52,000 and a small cache of weapons including an AK-47 assault rifle and an AR-15, a civilian version of the M-16. The marijuana, which was found late Tuesday, was surplus from the recent harvest season and believed to have been recently transported from a warehouse in the interior of Mexico. "It definitely hurt somebody's pocket," Robert Gracia, agent in charge for Customs in McAllen said of the load, worth an estimated $4 million on the streets. "They have got to make it up by continuing their operations," Garcia predicted. A pound of marijuana is estimated by federal prosecutors to yield about 890 cigarettes. Authorities arrested Armando Lopez Ramirez, 42, who was charged with importing the narcotics and possession with intent to distribute. He remained in custody late Wednesday and was expected to appear before a federal magistrate judge in McAllen. Smugglers likely chose the upscale brick home in a residential neighborhood as an unlikely place to hide the drugs until they could sneak the load farther north. Mission Mayor Beto Salinas said the presence of smugglers underscores the need for more local police officers and more help from the federal government. "That is a lot of dope," Salinas said. "We have some good federal programs helping us catch this stuff. Hopefully we can get some more help." The marijuana was packed into more than 200 plastic-wrapped, mud-stained bundles that occupied two rooms of the house, Garcia said. While mopping up the raid of the Mission home, authorities got word that smugglers had dropped about 1,000 pounds of marijuana along the Rio Grande after being surprised by joint Customs-Border Patrol operation. The marijuana in both instances was packaged similarly and believed to belong to the same Mexico- based smuggling organization. "It is pretty evident it was the same load," Gracia said. The smugglers, who had used inner tubes and a raft to move the load across the river, scrambled to Mexico to avoid capture. The marijuana was seized in a stretch of South Texas that has long been a leading corridor for sneaking narcotics into the United States. In nearby Donna in 1997, Border Patrol agents seized more than 5 tons of marijuana in a truck marking the patrol's largest seizure ever in South Texas. In the first five months of this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Customs has seized more marijuana in the Valley than it did for the entire previous year, Judy Turner, spokeswoman for the agency's regional headquarters in Houston, said. The seizures brought the tally to more than 21,000 pounds of marijuana. That compares to 17,000 pounds for the previous year.
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