Pubdate: Sun, 23 Sep 2007
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2007 Helena Independent Record
Author: Angela Brandt


HAVRE - Drug traffickers hide narcotics in many unlikely

Car seats. Vehicle engines. Baby formula bottles. Secret compartments
in semi trucks.

Drug task force member Jerry Nystrom has seen it all while patrolling
Montana's Hi-Line along the U.S.-Canadian border.

The oddest place he has seen someone smuggle drugs is in bodies,
especially a woman's nether regions - something people might believe
only happens in movies.

"They think we wouldn't look there," said Havre Police Lt. Nystrom,
Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force team leader.

Authorities usually know where to look due to leads from informants,
he said.

"You have to think like the traffickers think," Nystrom noted, adding
that the places smugglers think are inventive are usually the first
place agents look, such as in diaper bags and the diapers themselves.

Drug traffickers gravitate toward the Montana border because of its
rural, prairie setting with a low number of officers.

"It's like water. Drugs are going to travel the path of least
resistance," Nystrom said.

His task force oversees Havre, which is the hub of drug trafficking in
the area, with two ports of entry about 40 miles north of town. It
also covers Havre's home of Hill County, along with other
Canada-bordering counties of Phillips, Liberty and Blaine in addition
to Judith Basin and Chouteau counties and the Rocky Boy's and Fort
Belknap Indian reservations.

Nystrom said smugglers keep their stash in everything from suitcases
to intricate secret compartments in cars and trucks.

"Reconstructing vehicles is a whole other business," he

Traffickers hollow-out vans and raise the floor a few inches in order
to install a hidden space for drugs and make 4-foot-wide drawers
behind the rear bumper, Nystrom said. It doesn't take much space to
hold some contraband.

About four years ago, Nystrom participated in a checkpoint for semi
trucks at the Havre weigh scale looking for indicators of

Out of 40 trucks, three could have been used for smuggling, with
hidden compartments and other modifications, he said. Two were
confirmed as former drug trafficking vehicles.

"They're definitely out there," he said.

Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Christopher Richards of the Havre Border
Patrol Station said those traffickers who bypass the official port of
entries to smuggle drugs between the ports are less likely to try to
conceal the contraband.

"Since they are already breaking the law by not traveling into the
country at a port of entry, they are less likely to attempt to hide
the drugs," Richards said.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations dominate the distribution of
illicit drugs through out the Rocky Mountain area. Nystrom said about
half of the criminals dealing in contraband who are apprehended are
illegal aliens.

Smugglers hire locals as "mules" to cross the border between the ports
of entry while carrying 50 to 100 pound quantities of "B.C. bud," a
genetically altered, high-potency marijuana, according to an analysis
conducted by the National Drug Intelligence Center. The pot is
typically placed in sports equipment bags. These loads are often
transported by private vehicles, ATVs, and snowmobiles as well as on

"Law enforcement officials in northwestern Montana report an increase
in larger marijuana shipments by Asian traffickers from Canada using
fixed-wing aircraft, floatplanes, and helicopters to cross the
border," the center's analysis said.

Most of the high-potency marijuana smuggled across the border is then
transported to distribution centers such as Denver, Salt Lake City,
Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the analysis noted.
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