SAN DIEGO — U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said Friday that Mexican authorities confiscated at least 1.2 tons of cocaine this week in Tijuana in what may be the largest seizure of narcotics ever along the international border.
The cocaine, which samples show to be 96% pure, has a street value of about $331 million, said DEA spokesman Ronald J. D'Ulisse.
D'Ulisse said the DEA was contacted about the huge drug find Thursday by Mexican narcotics officials. The Mexican agents told their American counterparts they seized between 2,455 and 2,555 pounds of the high-grade cocaine Tuesday night between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. at an undisclosed address in Tijuana.
8 Arrested in Tijuana
Eight Mexican nationals were arrested in Tijuana in connection with the case.
Officials are not sure if the Tijuana arrests are part of a larger, international drug ring. But Diogenes Galanos, DEA special agent in San Diego, said he suspects the drugs are part of an organization backed by plenty of money.
"We're talking millions of dollars," Galanos said.
Although narcotics agents in both countries expressed happiness about the seizure, they differed on what led Mexican officials to the cache. The Mexican officials said leads developed through their own sources led to the undisclosed address.
But DEA authorities Friday took part of the credit. They said the large seizure resulted from the arrest by DEA and U.S. Customs agents at 10 p.m. Tuesday of two women who were trying to smuggle 80 pounds of cocaine across the border in the trunk and engine compartment of a sports car. That amount of cocaine has a street value of $10 million.
Galanos said DEA agents in San Diego learned enough from that arrest to call Mexican officials and tip them to the location of the cache. Cocaine found by the Mexican agents was packaged the same way as that confiscated from the two women at the border, he said.
'Packaging Is Identical'
"The packaging is identical," Galanos said. "The numbers on the packages jibe. It's the same."
The drugs were packed in round plastic boxes and wrapped in beige masking tape. On each package, which one DEA official said looked like "a loaf of health bread," the numbers "C-14" had been written with a magic marker.
Other large drug busts made within the last two years in Southern California include 1,100 pounds of cocaine seized on the highway between Tecate and Tijuana a year ago and 400 pounds of cocaine taken from the scene of a plane crash in the San Bernardino desert two years ago. In June, 1984, agents confiscated more than two tons of marijuana in San Diego County.
The 1.2 tons of cocaine seized in Tijuana apparently was being moved along what authorities say is a popular Colombia-Mexico-U.S. route. This route is being used more often by smugglers because of the ease in storing large quantities of drugs in Tijuana. The drugs are then moved little by little across the border, D'Ulisse said.
"Tijuana is a storage depot . . . a warehouse," D'Ulisse said. "They can nickel and dime us . . . ."