The San Diego border saw a lot of activity in 2018, from phony iPhone parts to millions of dollars worth of drugs. The latter was disguised and hidden in some pretty creative ways, including decorative Aztec calendars and car parts you didn’t know existed. Here are 18 of the biggest border busts of 2018.
Two Ecuadorian citizens pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to charges of intent to distribute cocaine in the U.S. by way of a speedboat. The two men were crew members aboard a go-fast vessel caught in international waters more than 100 miles off of the coast of the Guatemalan-El Salvadorian border, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Adam Braverman said. The boat was loaded with about 2,160 pounds of cocaine.
Three teens were arrested after reportedly trying to smuggle $143,000 worth of fentanyl across the U.S.-Mexico border. On March 30, a 17-year-old Mexican citizen was stopped at the San Ysidro Pedestrian East Border Crossing, and then on March 31, a 15-year-old Mexican citizen and a 17-year-old U.S. citizen were also stopped at the same border crossing. The boys were said to have strapped the drugs to their bodies, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
A SoCal mother of five was stopped at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry with 231 pounds of drugs stashed in her minivan, CBP agents said. The woman, identified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as Karen Celia Solis, 34, was driving a Honda Odyssey just after midnight. Her five children were in the van at the time. Drugs were found in the car doors, side panels, gas tank, and in the spare tire, CBP said. Methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin were all found, valued at more than $1 million in total. “CBP has seen many forms of drug smuggling through the years,” Pete Flores, director of field operations for CBP in San Diego said. “The hardest ones are when adults include their children in attempted smuggling schemes.” Solis’ kids were turned over to the custody of a family member.
More than 800 pounds of narcotics were intercepted as nine fugitives were arrested at the border over this weekend, CBP said. Charges ranged from parole violations, burglary, assault, and weapons offenses. Of the drugs confiscated, 590 pounds were meth, 193 pounds were cocaine, and 23 pounds were heroin. They were hidden inside car seats, doors, gas tanks, floors, and some of it even strapped the suspects’ bodies, according to CBP.
A French citizen was stopped at the San Ysidro Port of Entry with nearly $400,000 worth of meth, CBP agents said. The 30-year-old man is a legal U.S. resident. He tried to enter the country in his 2018 Jeep Cherokee when he was stopped for a secondary inspection. This prompted CBP agents to find 109 wrapped packages of meth, totaling 115 pounds, hidden in the Jeep’s quarter panels and its tailgate.
July 1: Jeep Hides 43 Pounds of Meth
El Centro Sector Border Patrol agents seized 43.16 pounds of meth at the Highway 86 checkpoint. The 49 packages were concealed inside the Jeep's firewall and were worth an estimated $142,428. Agents arrested a 33-year-old Mexican citizen in the incident.
A CBP detector dog alerted officers to check the retractable roof of a Nissan 350Z, driven by a U.S. citizen trying to cross the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. In the area where the roof is stored, agents found a 30-year-old woman and her 10-year-old daughter. However, the two appeared to be stuck in the car and it took officers 30 minutes to free them. Neither was injured. The 27-year-old American was arrested.
A man was pulled over just north of the Murrieta checkpoint on Interstate 15 for “unusual and suspicious driving behavior,” one BP agent said. Inside the 41-year-old man’s truck, agents found a duffle bag containing 40 vacuum-sealed bags full of meth. The drugs, weighing in at around 45 pounds, were valued at $830,000.
CBP officers stopped 13 narcotic-smuggling attempts over this weekend, totaling more than 580 pounds of meth and 69 pounds of cocaine. The drugs’ value was estimated to reach $2.8 million. A 41-year-old man was stopped in Otay Mesa as CBP agents noticed a large bulge in his chest, which was later discovered to be 13 pounds of meth. He was traveling with his minor daughter, who was turned over to Child Protective Services, CBP said.
A U.S. teen was arrested after 11,490 fentanyl pills, 61 pounds of meth, and 14 pounds of heroin were found inside the car he was driving across the border. The drugs were hidden in the car’s firewall, doors, and quarter panels. Cristian Araujo Aguirre, 19, faced possible prison time and a potential $1 million fine. It marked one of the largest fentanyl busts at the border. One week later, the record was smashed by Fernando Jesus Peraza after 20,000 fentanyl pills were found in his car at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Peraza, a U.S. citizen, later pleaded guilty to importing the pills. In both cases, the pills were designed to look like oxycodone, complete with the M30 marking on them.
An 81-year-old woman was stopped at the Tecate Port of Entry where, under a secondary inspection, CBP agents found $870,000 worth of heroin inside the car. She was driving a 2011 Chrysler 200, which had 34 wrapped packages of the drug stashed in its rocker panels, CBP said. An officer’s dog was helpful in the confiscation. The woman was taken into the custody of the Department of Homeland Security.
BP agents received a call from a witness who said they saw a suspicious item in the middle of the road near the border at 11 p.m. Officers with the Calexico Border Patrol Station found a football-shaped package wrapped in tape. Another package was spotted 150 feet away. It was a Jennings Firearms Bryco-59 9mm handgun, also wrapped in tape. The substance in the first bundle tested positive for marijuana, BP said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the firearm recovered would have been used to perpetrate violent crime,” said El Centro Sector Chief Gloria Chavez.
Thousands of counterfeit Apple products were confiscated by CBP during a shipment inspection at the Port of San Diego. The package was labeled as “back covers” and “polarizers.” Inside, there were 4,820 fake iPhone parts, valued at $222,113, if real, according to CBP. “One of our goals is to protect American consumers and U.S. industry from the threats posed by counterfeiting and piracy,” said Port of San Diego Port Director Bill Snyder. The shipment came from Portugal, CBP said.
Nine people were arrested for allegedly conspiring to ship meth to Hawaii, including some drugs that were disguised as decorative Aztec calendars and statues. The group reportedly made at least three shipments of the drugs to Hawaii over the past year, but all were intercepted by law enforcement. One of the times, the group allegedly tried mailing a nearly 90-pound shipment from a Garden Grove post office, according to federal prosecutors.
A Mexican citizen who crosses the border regularly for work called authorities after finding several bundles of drugs attached underneath his truck. The packages were heavily duct taped with magnets attached so they would stick to the truck. The driver said a neighbor alerted him that some men were "messing around" with his truck while it was parked in Tijuana. Upon inspection, the man found strange objects in his fender. He called local law enforcement who quickly removed the bundles. NBC 7 reported that smugglers would use powerful magnets to turn “trusted travelers” into unwitting mules.
From the 23rd to the 27th, BP agents seized 625 pounds of drugs, totaling $2.7 million, along the six land Port of Entries from San Ysidro to Calexico. Of the drugs confiscated, nearly 580 pounds were meth, 26 pounds were heroin, 17 pounds were fentanyl, and five pounds were cocaine, CBP said. In total, 10 people were arrested of suspected drug smuggling attempts. “In addition to dealing with the arrival of a large caravan of migrants and the processing of asylum claims, CBP officers within the San Diego Field Office continue to seize narcotics and arrest wanted individuals all while performing their traditional duties of processing lawful trade and travel,” said Pete Flores, CBP San Diego director of field operations. To view an extensive timeline of the migrant caravan’s clash with BP agents, click here.
CBP officers discovered 1,000 pounds of marijuana hidden in cargo boxes marked as "abrasive cutting wheels" at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. The marijuana was valued at around $625,000. The driver, a Mexican citizen, had his Visa cancelled and was placed in custody of the Department of Homeland Security.
Two people were arrested and nearly 130 pounds of meth was seized after BP agents spotted an ultralight aircraft fly over the border just north of Calexico. These aircraft are small and can’t weigh more than 254 pounds, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association. In the U.S., ultralight pilots do not need a license. Agents tracked the aircraft’s pathway and found the drugs at its drop-off location, hidden under heavy brush. “Ultralight aircraft not only pose a threat to legitimate air traffic in the vicinity, but also to national security,” said Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez. The drugs were estimated to be worth $1,422,553, according to BP. A metal cage and a bicycle were also found at the scene.
[DONT CHANGE MAIN HEADLINE] San Diego's Border Busts
Round-Up of Total Drugs Seized by CBP in San Diego in 2018
Marijuana: 7,713.29 pounds
In 2018, CBP agents discovered the least amount of marijuana, roughly 400 pounds away from the other lowest point, at 8,158 pounds in 2015. The highest recorded seizure was nearly nine times more than this year's haul, at 68,825 pounds in 2011.
Meth: 5,186.37 pounds
This year marked the highest amount of meth confiscated by the CBP. The second most was more than 1,000 pounds behind, coming in at 4,122.83 pounds in 2017. The amount of meth seized this year was roughly nine and a half times more than the agency's lowest point, at 548.85 pounds in 2011.
Cocaine: 1,820.63 pounds
Cocaine seizures in 2018 took third, about 900 pounds behind the highest amount, at 2,902.70 pounds in 2017. This year's confiscated cocaine is roughly twice as much as CBP's lowest haul, coming in at 827.96 pounds in 2013.
Heroin: 2,827.27 ounces
In 2018, the amount of heroin confiscated fell to the middle of the list, coming after 2017's record-breaking 5,706.83 ounces.
Fentanyl: 2,737 pounds (Seized by ICE)
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it confiscated the large load of drugs over the past year in a press release. This equates to roughly 4,121,220 million pill dosage units seized.
This data reaches back to 2011 and was provided by the CBP as of Dec. 17.
NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt stopped in San Diego as part of his nationwide “Across America” tour. “More heroin, cocaine, and meth come through the San Diego border than anywhere else in the U.S., and while the fencing here has become more fortified, smugglers are stopping at nothing to get around it,” Holt said. He rode along with CBP agents to see the multitude of ways drugs pass through the local border and how agents are trying to stop it.