Can you imagine buying a new car, bringing it home, and never looking in the spare tire well to find the 40 pounds of cannabis hidden inside?
In 2003, the Ford Motor Company announced its plans to move future production of a new midsize sedan to a plant in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico as a cost savings measure. In February and March 2017, authorities discovered an undetermined quantity of cannabis, an amount police are estimating to be worth an inflated $1.4 million, concealed in the spare tire wells of brand new Fords that were shipped via rail to the United States from Mexico. The discoveries were made in Rochester, Minnesota.
The first occurred on February 10, 2017 when personnel at the Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad’s Dayton’s Bluff vehicle holding lot in St. Paul, Minnesota notified the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) about the cannabis found in two vehicles that they were inspecting prior to distribution to local dealerships. Authorities recorded a total of eighty pounds of cannabis hidden in the spare tire wells of the two cars.
Further investigation revealed that the vehicles were two of fifteen that had been shipped on the same railcar, and that the other thirteen cars had already been sent out to dealerships or rental car locations. One of the vehicles had already been purchased by an 86-year-old man who remained clueless about what he had until police came to claim it.
Police located each one of the vehicles and found approximately 40-60 pounds of cannabis in the spare tire wells of each, instead of a spare tire. A police report on the incident indicates that the cannabis was typically found wrapped in two pieces in the shape of a “c” with a hole in the middle that fit around the post that the spare tire would normally go on. The smell normally associated with cannabis was absent, and instead, police noted a “strong odor of flowers and or fabric softener”, and the presence of coffee grounds in the
Local authorities reportedly found fourteen packages containing 217 pounds of cannabis with a street value of $272,000 in the spare tire wells of seven more Ford Fusions that had been shipped to Dilworth, Minnesota from Mexico.
The SPPD and BNSF indicated that the smuggling of narcotics across the border via imported goods is not uncommon and is an “ongoing problem.” They also speculated that the cannabis was likely placed into the vehicles while they were in Mexico, with the intention of having a co-conspirator on the US side of the border retrieve the packages at a later date. An expert on international import processes, a licensed US Customs Broker, reported that only four percent of commercial shipments are actually inspected by Customs and Border Protection with heavy reliance on electronic screening that takes place before shipment.
While many states have legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis production and usage, Mexico continues to be the main supplier for the US. As previously noted, the assembly plant that the Ford Focus vehicles above came from is located in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, a location that is within the territory controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel, which is said to also be present in Minnesota, using the state as both a market and transshipment point. The Sinaloa Cartel has been prominent in the news in recent years due to the former leader of the cartel, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera or “El Chapo” escaping from prison in 2015, and then being recaptured in 2016 and extradited to the United States for trial in January of 2017.