Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creative pot smugglers try 'a little bit of everything'

Arizona Daily Star
September 28, 2011
by Brenna Goth

Nogales smugglers are trying new tricks to get their product through the border fence built this summer.

Capitalizing on the 4-inch openings between steel bars in the fence, pot bundles have been found molded into long, thin tubes that can slip between the slats, law enforcement officials say.

Tossing large, football-shaped bundles over the fence has also become prevalent since the new construction, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. Estrada has worked in law enforcement at the border for more than 40 years and said smugglers have tried "a little bit of everything."

With the football bundles, smugglers tape the packages before throwing or launching them from Mexico.

"There are quarterbacks in Mexico and receivers in the U.S.," said Lt. Gerardo Castillo, who works for the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force. "We try to intercept, obviously."

The thin bundles of pot were first found during a July seizure and were likely passed through a space, Castillo said. He said the tubular bundles were about 20 inches long and about a half-inch thinner than the new border-fence gaps.

The 2.8-mile border fence completed this summer aimed to provide more security through increased height and strength.

But smugglers find tactics to address any new challenges a fence provides, Castillo said.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game," he said. "If we build a wall, they're going to climb it. Whatever barrier exists, they're going to overcome it."

Increased Border Patrol manpower and technology have forced smugglers to bring across smaller loads in recent months, said Agent Jason Rheinfrank.

Rheinfrank recalled other unusual smuggling tactics, like a colleague who found a man wading through the Douglas sewage system with a scuba mask and bundle of marijuana, and the time someone used the lighting system at a baseball field in Douglas to attach fishing line from Mexico to a house.

"They'd zip-lined it (marijuana) down across the border," Rheinfrank said. "They come up with all different methods."

Though it is possible for people to pass things between spaces in the new fence, the visibility provided by the openings is beneficial, Rheinfrank said.

"If you're up to no good? Boom. We can instantly respond to that area," Rheinfrank said.

Estrada said he did not envision any changes being made to the fence to prevent the package-passing. Opportunity will remain despite prevention efforts, he said.

"It just makes cartels more creative," Estrada said. "That's the nature of the beast down here in Nogales."

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