Drug dealers are offering teenagers $400 to strap a kilo to their bodies and walk across the U.S.-Mexico border and, increasingly, federal prosecutors are seeing San Diego-area high schools as the dealers’ recruiting grounds.
“These kids are 14, 15, 16, 17 years old. They just see the $400 that they’re making. They don’t look at the big picture,” said Assistant U. S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson.
Just this week, Phillip Junior Webb was arrested and accused of recruiting classmates at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista to smuggle people, methamphetamine, and fentanyl into the country on multiple occasions.
The five teenagers were caught at the border trying to smuggle meth or fentanyl strapped to their bodies between July 1 and October 23 of last year, court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office allege.
Prosecutors allege the teenagers were recruited by Webb, 18, while at school.
More students are falling into the role of drug mule for quick cash.
The problem isn’t just at Castle Park High School but at other schools in the South Bay, Hobson said, including Chula Vista High School and San Ysidro High School.
The students are sometimes unaware that they may be moving fentanyl, a substance that can be potentially deadly if the package were to break open.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stopped three teenagers with $150,000 worth of the substance strapped to their bodies in March. One of the teenagers was a U.S. citizen.
“They’re putting it on their bodies at an unknown house in Tijuana,” Hobson said.
“Some of the juveniles are claiming they did it 20 times before they got caught,” she said.
Hobson said federal prosecutors are working in partnership with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to examine how recruitment is happening at the high school level.
“This is a disturbing trend when you have kids recruiting other kids in the high schools,” Hobson said.
Prosecutors want to make parents and teachers aware of the growing problem so they can look out for vulnerable students who may be swayed by the lure of making money.
Drug smuggling can lead to a prison sentence, the loss of your parents’ trust as well as consequences with the immigration process.
In the Castle Park High School incident, one juvenile told agents after his arrest that he was once paid by Webb in a bathroom on campus.
Another student arrested told agents that he was contacted by a female student who asked him to do a favor for one of her friends.
If convicted, Webb faces 13 years to life in prison.