- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Federal agents in Tucson, Ariz., yesterday seized nearly a ton of marijuana concealed inside a pair of sport utility vehicles painted to perfectly match the marked U.S. Border Patrol vehicles that search for illegal aliens and illicit drugs along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In what Border Patrol officials in Washington described as a new twist in the southern border drug trade, the two white-and-green vehicles emblazoned with the agency's official logo were intercepted before dawn by Border Patrol and U.S. Customs Service agents in a joint operation near Palominas, Ariz., about five miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal said the vehicles, a 2000 Dodge Durango and a 2001 Ford Expedition, had been detailed to pass as official units complete with painted-on government license plates.
He said agents discovered large bundles containing approximately 1,900 pounds of marijuana inside the SUVs.
"This joint enforcement action underscores the fine working relationship between U.S. Customs and the Border Patrol and serves as a preview of things to come under the Department of Homeland Security," said Lee Morgan, the Customs Service resident agent in charge in Douglas, Ariz.
David Aguilar, chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, described the incident as a "direct reflection of the outstanding cooperation between our two agencies."
"And that teamwork means bad news for the bad guys," said Mr. Aguilar, whose sectorcovers 89,000 square miles in central and eastern Arizona and 261 miles of U.S.-Mexico border.
The area has become a favorite route for drug smugglers headed into the United States.
Mr. Villarreal said agents arrested the driver of one of the vehicles.
He said the driver was an undocumented Mexican national identified as Martin Lopez Cardenas, 33, of Agua Prieta, Mexico. The second driver fled into the desert, back into Mexico.
Mr. Villarreal said the Customs Service took custody of the vehicles, the marijuana and the driver.
Mr. Lopez Cardenas will remain in federal custody pending prosecution on drug smuggling charges, Mr. Villarreal said.
The Tucson sector seized more than 300,000 pounds of marijuana in fiscal 2002, with a street value of about $250 million.


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