Smugglers get creative in outrageous attempts to get narcotics across Arizona border

Stopping smugglers: Inside the operations at the Nogales port of entry
Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 12:21 PM MST
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NOGALES, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Fentanyl is considered the most dangerous drug to ever hit the United States.

The Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona, ranks among the busiest ports for fentanyl seizures.

While processing millions of legitimate travelers into the U.S. last year, Customs and Border Protection officers seized millions of fentanyl pills, thousands of pounds of methamphetamine and quadrupled the amount of cocaine seized over the previous year.

It’s a massive operation – a gateway for pedestrians, cargo and cars.

The latest CBP data shows more than 300,000 passenger vehicles and 214,000 pedestrians passed through the Nogales port of entry in September alone. Among them were drug smugglers.

“Specifically, the last three months of the fiscal year we have seen huge seizures and deep, deep concealments,” said port director Michael Humphries.

Humphries says smugglers use any void they can think of.

“We’ve had false floors, inside of gas tanks, drive shafts where they’re hollow,” said Humphries, “They cut it open, fill it with pills, weld it back together, put it back on the car and drive through.

“There’s fentanyl pills floating in the gas. Narcotics concealed inside all four tires of the vehicles, floor compartments,” said Humphries.

From deep concealment in cars to creative concealment inside tamales.

“Here they hollowed out an ice chest. Took out all the insulation. Replaced the insulation with blue fentanyl pills. Then they fill it with ice, meat or tortillas and try to get it through the port,” said Humphries. “Someone walking up with a walker. The metal tubes were completely full of fentanyl pills. I believe it was around 14,000 fentanyl pills.”

CBP officers at the Nogales port use K-9 teams and imaging systems to detect narcotics.

”We give the travelers an opportunity to secure their pets while their vehicle is being inspected so the dog is not interfering with the K-9 inspections,” said Hugo Nunez, public affairs liaison for the port of Nogales. “If they do find something they’ll seize it depending on what it is.”

Humphries says his ultimate goal is to stop transnational criminal organizations on both sides of the border and to prevent citizens from becoming drug mules.

“There was one day we got eight internal body carriers in a 24-hour period,” said Humphries. “That’s not individuals just bringing something for themselves. This is cartel activity.”

Humphries says 99 percent of smugglers with hard narcotics are prosecuted.

“When these cases are concluded we are seeing people being sentenced to years and years in prison. So, think about your family, think about your spouse and yourself,” said Humphries. “Do you want to be locked up for years and years?”

Don’t miss Part 2 of KOLD News 13′s investigation Thursday, Nov. 3. We’ll look deeper into CBP’s fight to keep criminals, weapons and cash from entering and exiting Arizona.