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15,185-Pound Marijuana Load Largest Seized at U.S.-Mexico Border

Crime: Drug-sniffing dog at Otay Mesa crossing point alerts officers to boxes hidden in shipment of TVs aboard a tractor-trailer.

April 05, 2001|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Customs officials on Wednesday announced the seizure of what they called the largest single load of marijuana ever found at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing: 15,185 pounds of the drug hidden in a truckload of new television sets.

A federal contraband enforcement team at the Otay Mesa border crossing was alerted by a drug-sniffing dog to the 1978 tractor and its 53-foot trailer Tuesday during a routineinspection, said Vince Bond, a spokesman for the Customs Service.

The California-registered rig was later examined by a gamma-ray imaging system, which detected irregularities in the load of television sets, he said.

On an inspection dock, federal inspectors found 1,977 wrapped packages of marijuana with a street value of $12.1 million hidden inside 214 boxes layered on top of the legitimate commercial shipment, he said. The driver, 22-year-old Jose Gurrola-Olivas of Tijuana, was arrested.

Bond said the seizure underlined increasing discoveries of drug shipments at commercial crossings along the 1,800-mile border separating the United States and Mexico.

"We've been seeing more and more marijuana coming across the border year after year after year," he said. "It's a trend that can be interpreted three ways: We're doing a better job at interdiction, or there are more drugs being thrown at the border, or both."

Inspectors at the Otay Mesa border crossing have been unusually busy in recent months.

Five days ago, customs agents there seized more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana valued at $538,000 and found among decorative figures and art objects in a truck.

On Feb. 9, customs agents at that station seized nearly 9,000 pounds of marijuana found hidden in a commercial tractor-trailer.

The same day, federal inspectors seized 17.6 pounds of methamphetamine valued at $140,000. It had been wrapped in six packages stashed inside the gas tank of a 1989 Ford Probe.

"The smuggling of marijuana by cargo trucks is nothing new," Bond said. "What's different right now is that we are in the height of the growing season in Mexico, which means there's a lot of product heading north."

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