September 3, 2008

Authorities seize estimated $8.3 million in cocaine

Sean Gaffney
HIDALGO -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 260 pounds of cocaine found late Sunday night in a hidden compartment on a commercial bus, the agency announced in a news release Wednesday.

Agents have refused to identify the bus company or the 43-year-old driver, a Harlingen resident, who was attempting to cross the bus into the United States about 11:05 p.m. Sunday. Agents fined the driver $10,000 but did not arrest the person.

A drug-detection dog discovered the cocaine, worth an estimated $8.3 million on the street, as agents conducted a secondary inspection of the bus, according to the news release.

"This is the largest cocaine seizure (CBP has) found hidden in a commercial bus," said Hector A. Mancha, the agency's Hidalgo-Pharr port director, in the news release.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency is working to unravel the smuggling operation and could not provide more information about the bus or the driver.

According to a 16-count federal indictment unsealed in April, five owners and managers of a commercial bus company in Starr County rigged their buses to smuggle drugs from Mexico to northern destinations in the United States and transport cash back south into Mexico.

During stops between 2001 and 2006, investigators found drugs stashed under the buses' walkways and behind mirrors in their lavatories, as well as in the vehicles' luggage compartments.

Each time the bus company was busted, it closed and reopened under a different name, frustrating authorities trying to track the buses' movement, authorities said at the time.

The case is still in U.S. District Court in Houston. The company operated under names such as Transtar, Neptune Tours, Los Primos, USAMex and Ameri-Mex.

No comments:

Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?