Comments Off on Busted at the Border: Confiscations Increase as Drugs Wash into SoCal

A crackdown on methamphetamine ingredients in the U.S. has fueled a rush of manufacturers and smugglers in Mexico

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series examining  drug smuggling, human  smuggling and human trafficking in the San Diego  and Orange County area,  and how federal and local law enforcement  agencies are grappling with the  problems. Part 1: Border Black Market: Feds Fight Huge SoCal Trade in Dope and Flesh 

Drugs  flow from Mexico into Southern California in massive  quantities—especially methamphetamine in recent years—but more  than 1,000 new border agents in San Diego County make them  scarcer and more expensive, federal officials say.

At  the I-5 checkpoint south of San Clemente—and at five other permanent  highway checkpoints—the Border Patrol stops some cars at random and others that look suspicious, such as vehicles with low carriages indicating extra weight,  said Border Patrol spokesman Jerry Conlin.

If a stopped driver exhibits specific physical cues or answers questions inconsistently, agents funnel the car to a secondary area. Typically, drug dogs are then brought in to sniff around the  vehicle. Canines are one of law enforcement’s most  powerful weapons against drug smuggling. When  a dog signals the presence of drugs—either by sitting up straight and  pointing or by pawing at the source of the odor—it constitutes a  legally ironclad probable cause to search a vehicle, person or  building.

“You  teach them the odor recognition, and then you teach them the response,”  said Dave Reaver of Adlerhorst K-9 Academy in Riverside County. “Then  you vary the location—whether it’s a vehicle or a house.”

Reaver  doesn’t train the Border Patrol’s dogs, but nearly every local police  agency in Southern California is among his 500 domestic and  international police dog training and importing clients.

With  an olfactory capability more than 1 million times stronger than humans,  dogs are a near-perfect way of detecting contraband.

Smugglers have been known to seal their stash in plastic and float it  inside a vehicle gas tank just to foil the K-9 units. But an experienced dog can detect the scent even when drugs are sealed in plastic and submerged in gasoline.

“The dogs aren’t infallible, but it’s difficult to hide the odor,” Reaver said.

More Agents Mean More Drugs Snagged

Border  Patrol drug seizure statistics represent only a fraction of what is captured crossing the border into San Diego County. The agency’s numbers don’t include  drugs seized as part of Drug Enforcement Administration  investigations or multi-agency task forces, like the one that uncovered two elaborate smuggling tunnels under the Tijuana border in November,  netting almost 20 tons of marijuana.

But Border Patrol drug hauls have skyrocketed in  recent years, which Conlin attributed to a huge increase in the agency’s  San Diego resources. The number of agents in the San  Diego Sector has increased from 1,500 in 2005 to 2,700 now. And, in December  2011, the agency opened a brand new field office at the I-5 checkpoint,  he said.

In  fiscal year 2010, which runs from October 2009 through September 2010, the  Border Patrol in San Diego County seized 21,576 pounds of weed, 1,342  pounds of cocaine, 306 pounds of methamphetamine and 501 ounces of  heroin.

In fiscal 2011, marijuana seizures in the region more than tripled, to 68,825 pounds).

Meanwhile,  cocaine seizures nearly doubled (to 2,504 pounds), meth jumped almost  80 percent (to 548 pounds) and heroin climbed 75 percent (to 878  ounces).

In  the first five months of fiscal 2012, fake dashboards, speaker boxes,  trunk compartments and other hiding places have yielded similar results.  Although pot and cocaine seizures appear to be drifting down (16,716  pounds and 717 pounds, respectively, in the first five months of the  fiscal year), meth and heroin are way up.

If  the current seizure rates hold, the amount of intercepted  methamphetamine will nearly double over last year (to  1,084 pounds), and heroin will rise by about 260 percent (to 2,278 ounces).

The Rise of Mexican Methamphetamine

Gary  Hill, DEA assistant special agent-in-charge  in the San Diego Sector, said the agency has seen a particular increase  in Mexican-made methamphetamine over the past several years because of  developments in the manufacturing process and tighter restrictions on  meth ingredients in the U.S.

The  2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act clamped down on pseudophedrine, a  common cold medicine used to make meth. The act required retailers to  lock up over-the-counter medicines containing pseudophedrine and  maintain a log of each transaction.

Before  that, Caucasian outlaw motorcycle gangs, white power groups and  domestic Hispanic gangs manufactured and sold much of the meth consumed  in Southern California, according to a study by criminologist Curtis  Robinson and other academic literature.

Mexico  didn’t really enter the picture because phosphorous, another component  in the meth manufacturing process, was tightly restricted in that nation  because of its potential use in explosives and incendiary devices, Hill said.

Now,  because of U.S. restrictions on pseudophedrine and a new meth-making  process that leaves out phosphorous, it’s more economical to manufacture  the drug in Mexico, Hill said. So Mexican drug cartels have added meth to their  portfolios.

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