Jul 7, 2011

FBI unravels drug smuggling scheme at the Juarez-El Paso border

Copyright (C) 2011, WLM

By Kelly McKenzie
07072011/WLM News

EL PASO, TEXAS - The FBI in El Paso, Texas, unraveled a drug smuggling scheme with several suspects that used unwitting border commuters to transport marijuana across the border, according to court documents filed in U.S. federal court.
Jesus Chavez, one of the suspects charged in the scheme, is scheduled to have a detention hearing today in El Paso.
According the documents, including a FBI criminal complaint, the scheme included people operating on both sides of the border.
The suspects used lookouts to chose targets (drivers and their vehicles) at the Stanton Street international bridge express lane.
For the scheme, the suspects wrote down the driver's vehicle identification number that then was given to a Texas locksmith to produce duplicate keys for the targeted vehicle.
The suspects used the keys to enter a vehicle, place drugs in it and relock it.
The drivers, totally unaware of what was happening, drove their vehicle with the drugs across the border to El Paso for work or other business.
The FBI said the suspects would unlock the vehicle wherever it was parked on the U.S. side to remove the drugs.
However, border inspections sometimes interdicted the drugs, and authorities would charge the unsuspecting vehicle owners.
The most recent case related to the scheme involved the arrest of Ana Isela Martinez, a teacher for a private school in El Paso, Texas, after Mexican soldiers conducting checks at the bridge on the Juarez side intercepted a marijuana load in her vehicle before she crossed over to El Paso.
Martinez, 35, is in jail in Juarez.
The FBI complaint said the suspects selected Martinez because she was punctual and predictable on when she crossed and where and for how long she parked her vehicle.
Court records said other victims of the scheme included Dr. Justus Lawrence Opot and Marisol Perez, health professionals who worked together. They discovered a bag with marijuana in their vehicle before crossing the border and reported it to Mexican authorities, who arrested them anyway. Eventually, they were cleared and released.
Phil Jordan, a former DEA official in El Paso, said it is not unusual for traffickers to plant drugs on people for the purpose of retaliation or to use innocent border-crossers to transport drugs across the border.
"They were doing it to tourists in Nogales, Arizona," Jordan said.
Auto thieves are known to use duplicate sets of keys they manage to obtain to steal vehicles and transport them across the border or to other U.S. cities.