- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Federal authorities are searching for the source of $24 million worth of cocaine seized Thursday by U.S. Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. It was hidden in a truckload of heavy machinery.

The Border Patrol agents, now a part of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, located the drugs — about 750 pounds — with the help of a CBP canine and an X-ray system known as VACIS (Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System) after the driver attempted to pass through the checkpoint.

CBP spokesman Mario Villarreal said the tractor-trailer transporting the equipment had been directed to a secondary inspection area after the dog alerted officials to a piece of machinery on the flatbed trailer. During the secondary inspection, Mr. Villarreal said, the X-ray system identified the exact location of the contraband.

“Disassembling the various components of this equipment in order to locate and extricate the narcotics without this technology [VACIS] at the checkpoints would have been extremely difficult and dangerous,” said Jose E. Garza, who heads the Border Patrol sector in McAllen, Texas.

“The teamwork of CBP Inspectors and Border Patrol agents, their increased vigilance, our canine units and the use of the X-ray technology has helped us safeguard the homeland and identify and arrest numerous undocumented immigrants and the seizure of narcotics,” he said.

Authorities said it took several welders with blow torches 13 hours to pull apart the heavy steel equipment, exposing what they said was cocaine concealed inside piping. The drugs reportedly were also wrapped with lead.

The truck driver, identified only as a U.S. citizen, was turned over to agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration for questioning.

The Falfurrias checkpoint is located between Brownsville, Texas, and Corpus Christi, Texas.

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