HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Narcotics Seizures On Rise Along Border
Pubdate: Mon, 25 Sep 2006
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2006 The Dallas Morning News
Author: David Mclemore, The Dallas Morning News
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Record Amounts of Pot, Cocaine Found, Along With More Potent Meth

On a recent muggy Sunday, a Customs and Border Protection inspector 
at the Lincoln-Juarez Bridge in Laredo noticed something not quite 
right with the driver of a 1999 Chevy Suburban crossing in from Mexico.

Within minutes, a drug-sniffing dog found 40 pounds of heroin hidden 
in a rear-floor compartment.

Less than a mile away -- and just a few hours later -- another 
inspector at the Gateway Bridge found 60 pounds of cocaine stuffed 
under the rear seat of a Mini Cooper.

The seizures netted agents $6 million in drugs and the largest heroin 
haul by customs officials in Laredo this year.

The Sept. 17 doubleheader was just another day along the border in 
what appears to be a boom year for drug trafficking. Officers at 
border crossings, Border Patrol agents at checkpoints and state 
troopers at traffic stops are finding record amounts of cocaine and marijuana.

With the fiscal year almost over, Customs and Border Protection's 
Laredo sector saw its heroin seizures jump 40 percent. Seizures of 
undeclared currency, frequently a measure of illegal drug proceeds 
headed south, jumped 72 percent to nearly $10 million.

And officials are particularly alarmed that a relatively new kid on 
the block, a purer and more addictive Mexican-produced 
methamphetamine, is showing up all over the state in huge amounts.

Why is so much smuggling happening now, when the Texas border 
bristles with a third more Border Patrol agents and double the 
Customs and Border Protection inspectors than five years ago?

The answer: With greater enforcement and higher demand, drug 
trafficking organizations are saturating the border in hopes of 
getting at least some of their loads across, officials say.

Mario Villarreal, assistant chief for Border Patrol's Rio Grande 
Valley sector, one of the busiest in the nation, said more officers 
mean more drugs will be intercepted.

"The increased interdictions are the result of the tremendous work by 
the men and women agents out on the front lines and improved 
technology and intelligence," Mr. Villarreal said.

Drug trafficking organizations have been stockpiling the drugs on the 
Mexican side of the border, waiting to move them across, he added.

But there's another part to the equation, said Jane Carlisle Maxwell, 
a specialist in researching drug trafficking trends at the University 
of Texas in Austin.

More drugs also mean more users.

"We have to understand that more narcotics entering the country means 
the number of people dependent on drugs is going up," she said. "The 
traffickers just have more customers."

Alarming Rise in Meth

The illicit drug marking the biggest increase -- and the most 
alarming, authorities said -- is the smokable form of 
methamphetamine, known as "ice."

This fiscal year, customs inspectors at eight ports of entry between 
Brownsville and Del Rio have seized 683 pounds of meth as of July 5, 
the most recent month for which data are available. That compares 
with 627 pounds for all of fiscal 2005.

DPS agents seized 123 pounds of Mexican meth in the first quarter of 
fiscal 2006, compared with 28.8 in the same period in the previous. 
fiscal year.

In June, DEA administrator Karen Tandy told a Senate Foreign 
Relations subcommittee that about 80 percent of the meth used in the 
U.S. is distributed by Mexican trafficking organizations and comes 
from large "super labs" built on the Mexican side of the border. 
Three are located at Monterrey, Ciudad Acuna and Piedras Negras.

The rise of Mexican ice -- purer and more addictive than the meth 
produced in mom-and-pop clandestine labs in Texas -- is due in part 
to the controlled sale of over-the-counter remedies containing 
pseudoephedrine, a chemical used in the manufacture of homegrown 

A state law passed in August 2005 limited individual sales of cold 
medicines to 6 grams, roughly two packages of cold pills, each month. 
Retailers were also required to move cold medicines behind the 
counter and record the names of purchasers.

This year, Congress passed a law similar to the Texas law, requiring 
all medicines containing pseudoephedrine be kept behind the counter 
and sold in limited amounts.

"I'm afraid what we did was create a monster," Dr.  Maxwell said. 
"For it opened the doors for the Mexican drug organizations to get 
into meth manufacture in a big way.

"The Mexican meth is a very scary thing," said Dr.  Maxwell. "That 
could mean people will get addicted much faster. And meth addicts 
tend to become paranoid and more violent. It's a threat to the entire 

In her report on substance abuse trends in Texas for 2006 for UT's 
Center for Social Work Research, Dr.  Maxwell found that treatment 
programs for methamphetamine abuse made up 14 percent of all 
admissions in 2005, a three-fold increase.

Phone calls about methamphetamine use to state poison control centers 
rose to 490 last year, compared with 144 a year earlier.

Heroin, long a flat market for traffickers, also is showing signs of 
resurgence. The 40-pound seizure in Laredo on Sept. 17 brought the 
total seized by customs officers there to 185 pounds -- a 40 percent 
increase over last year.

Purity levels have also increased, with Mexican black-tar heroin, the 
generally cheaper, inferior quality product that traffickers sell in 
Texas, increasing from 26 percent pure to 38.5 percent in less than a 
year, Dr. Maxwell said.

Agent Villarreal says that the increase in seizures, while alarming, 
tends to be cyclical. Trafficking tends to be constant over time, he says.

"I don't think we're moving into some new plateau of drug 
trafficking," he said. "The smugglers have time on their hands to 
come up with new methods. So we'll continue working our agents in the 
field, and we'll try to be more creative in our tactics. The more we 
catch, the more it hurts the traffickers."

Traffic Through Texas

The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates 65 percent of all 
narcotics smuggled into the U.S. enters from Mexico.

Three of the four major distribution pipelines used by Mexican drug 
cartels pass through Texas.

But for every strategic advance by drug agents, Mexican traffickers 
try out new ways to bypass law enforcement's attention.

For instance, Border Patrol agents in McAllen caught a man last June 
with 38 pounds of heroin sewn into a vest.

Inspectors in the Valley find that smugglers are opting for frequency 
over quantity, running smaller loads across the international bridges 
more often.

"We now have more people and are better equipped to conduct border 
inspections faster and more efficiently," said Felix Garza, spokesman 
for Customs and Border Protection at Pharr. "The smugglers know that, 
and they're always looking for ways to beat the system."

And for the area around Laredo, the continuing lethal turf battle 
between rival drug organizations across the river in Nuevo Laredo 
plays a key role in the intensified movement of drugs, said Leticia 
Moran, director of field operations for the Customs and Border 
Protection's Laredo office, which covers eight ports of entry from 
Brownsville to Del Rio.

"It appears the organizations are trying to move more hard narcotics 
in an effort to make more money, " said Ms. Moran. "They try to put 
more of the smaller loads of the more expensive drugs across."

State officials said the rising number of drug seizures suggests good 
police work, not a resurgence of trafficking levels to those of the 1980s.

"Law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels are 
addressing smuggling corridors and hot spots with a strategic 
analysis that allows us to better utilize our resources," said Tela 
Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.  "As a 
result, we're having better successes in our interdiction efforts."

Mexican traffickers may have also been able to take advantage of 
recent political events in Mexico, she said, particularly the 
reassignment of Mexican law enforcement and military personnel from 
the border to Mexico City for the presidential elections and 
Independence Day celebrations.

"These assignments left the border significantly open to smuggling 
activities from the Mexican side," Ms.  Mange said.

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