U.S. customs officers seized more than 14,000 pounds of marijuana at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales last week, in what officials are calling the largest marijuana bust on record at an Arizona port of entry.
CBP officers stand guard over the pot load Jan. 22 at the Mariposa Port of Entry. Curt Prendergast/Wick News Service
“This is the biggest shipment of narcotics, of marijuana, that’s been seized in Arizona at any of the ports of Arizona,” Ramirez said, adding that the seizure will make “a huge dent” in the drug-trafficking organization that tried to slip it across the border.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Ramirez kept many specifics of the seizure under wraps, including whether any arrests had been made. But a CBP news release issued later in the day said the driver of the truck, a 26-year-old man from Nogales, Sonora, had been turned over to federal investigators.
As for the drug load, it was disguised as a legal shipment and hidden in cardboard boxes among metal drums and fans being shipped across the border by truck, Ramirez said.
“This entire shipment was pallets of cardboard boxes. The thing is, there were no metal fans or anything inside those boxes,” Ramirez said. Instead, each box contained three or four bundles of marijuana, he said.
The drug traffickers bundled and labeled the marijuana in much the same way that legitimate companies ship their products, said Eloy Cortez, assistant director for trade operations for CBP at the ports of Nogales, in a side interview after the press conference.
“It’s a Fortune 500 business,” he said of the drug-trafficking organizations. “They’ve come a long way with their logistics. They’re doing all the things that legitimate businesses do for that bottom line, to make a profit.”
The smugglers may have been trying to disguise the load as a shipment coming from one of the more than 100 maquilas, or foreign-owned factories in Mexico’s northern border region, that operate in Nogales, Sonora, Ramirez said in another side interview.
“They’re going to look at what the local maquilas produce and they’re going to try and come through as a manifested shipment of whatever those similar products are,” Ramirez said.
Traffickers often ramp up their smuggling efforts in the winter months when the produce distribution industry enters its busy season, he said, noting that more than 1,200 trucks cross through Nogales every day during the produce season.
Historically, large shipments are common in January, Ramirez said. “Even the drug-dealers take the holidays off,” he said. “It’s not unusual that they try and move a large load after the holidays, but they really got ambitious with this.”