Mexican cartels may need to update their marijuana-smuggling playbook after an obvious plot to bring in illegal cannabis into the U.S. was uncovered by Otay Mesa officials.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities retrieved over 1,619 pounds of weed that was headed for San Diego at the port. The smugglers attempted to stuff large bags of illegal herb into makeshift cement stones that were masked with dark red paint. By using large rocks, the individuals were hoping to get through the border casually, passing off the fake boulders as decorations for a housing project.
The overused “hide things in rocks” trick (most people hide keys and leave it near the front door of their home) did not fool anyone at the Otay Mesa cargo port. Police noticed something was not right when the flatbed semi-truck pulled up at the checkpoint. Border patrol officials scanned the vessel using a powerful x-ray machine, which helped pinpoint the exact location of the hidden bags. After the x-ray, another inspection was carried out, but this time using drug-sniffing canines. The dogs confirmed that there was something inside the rocks, prompting the police to drill a hole inside one of the questionable stones.
“My officers not only need to enforce typical import and export laws, but need to be vigilant for smuggling attempts like this,” explained Otay Mesa Cargo Port Director Rosa Hernandez. “Officers used their skills and tools at their disposal to find and seize the large shipment.”
A total of 577 bundles of weed, tightly packaged in bricks, were found inside the boulders. Officials estimated the street value of the bust to be around $810,000.
The bust was a monumental achievement for authorities, but the incident was not the grandest attempt to come from Mexican cartels. In 2015, officers found an underground pipeline (also known as a super tunnel) that stretched eight football fields from Tijuana to Otay Mesa. It took a collaborative effort from the U.S. and Mexico to take down and seal the super tunnel. Over 22 people were arrested and 12 tons of weed was acquired during the bust.
The tunnel was impressively designed for mass smuggling, complete with a fully functioning rail system, neatly configured string lights and robust ventilation lines. At the end of the tunnel, Mexican police found a warehouse, where cannabis was processed and prepared for shipment. Local law enforcement groups captured 16 smugglers and 10 tons of illegal pot worth roughly $6 million. At the other end of the tunnel, U.S. officials arrested six people and uncovered two tons of marijuana. The super tunnel was the tenth largest underground passage in the area discovered over a 10-year period.
“We see a super tunnel open for business once every year or so,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “Just when they think they’re ready to move, we put it out of business.”