U.S. Halts Mexico
of Hiding Drugs in Truck Axles
By: Eric Miller, Transport Topics Reporter
Motor carriers received a stark reminder earlier this month that
cross-border trucking presents special challenges when U.S.
prosecutors announced the arrest of 19 members of Mexican drug
organizations who allegedly transported drugs in PVC pipes concealed
inside tractor-trailer axles.
The arrests, made public Aug.
15 by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, came with the claim
that cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin were smuggled into the
United States using random trucking companies.
indictments come after a two-year investigation by a Southern
California–based federal drug task force. Additional members of drug
organizations still may be arrested, officials said.
allegations here describe a wide-ranging conspiracy to exploit
aspects of our nation’s trucking and transportation system and
funnel enormous amounts of dangerous narcotics into this country,”
Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of
California, said when the arrests were announced.
investigation started in 2011 after federal agents began targeting a
trafficking organization that transported thousands of pounds of
drugs from Mexico via the border crossing in Nogales, Ariz.,
dropping the contraband off at truck yards in South Gate and
The PVC pipes containing the drugs were
then removed from the trucks and distributed to locations in Arizona
and California, including Los Angeles and the counties of Orange,
Riverside and San Bernardino, according to the indictment.
“There weren’t any specific trucking companies that were targeted,”
said Jay Dauphinais, a Los Angeles–based Drug Enforcement Agency
special agent who spoke with Transport Topics. “They were just
No trucking companies were identified in the
However, a spokesman in the U.S.
attorney’s office in Los Angeles said one of the defendants, Julio
Cesar Castro, owned JCC Trucking Inc. The Panorama City,
Calif.–based carrier was placed out of service in December for
refusing an audit, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety
According to the United Nations
Office on Drugs and Crime, cocaine is typically transported from
Colombia to Mexico or Central America by sea and then onward by land
to the United States and Canada.
U.S. authorities estimate
that 90 percent of the cocaine entering the country crosses the
U.S.–Mexico land border,” the U.N. said.
The trucks used for
smuggling can so easily be made to look like legitimate operations
simply by bearing duplicates of familiar company logos.
are the Class 8 vehicles used to cross the border to haul everything
from agriculture products to automotive parts. That makes it easy to
Dauphinais said drivers would pick up a
load, giving the traffickers access to the vehicle without their
The drivers may not, in some cases,
have known where or what quantity of drugs was concealed in the
truck, but they would likely have been aware that some contraband
was on board.
The traffickers would give the truck back to
the driver to be driven across the border, Dauphinais said.
“What the traffickers did was open up the rear axles and put the PVC
pipe right into the axles,” Dauphinais said. “There was a capability
of storing anywhere from 10 to 16 kilos in the axle.”
than 2,400 pounds of methamphetamine, 66 pounds of cocaine, 79
pounds of heroin and more than $1.2 million in cash were seized in
the course of the two-year investigation, federal officials said.
“What it shows is any part of any vehicle can be used. These
guys are always thinking up new ways to smuggle into any kind of
vehicle,” Dauphinais said. “But if you crack open the axle, it’s
obviously going to hurt the integrity of the truck. It’s probably
lucky that the truck makes it across in one piece.”
Claude Arnold, special agent at the Los Angeles office of U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement: “The criminal networks targeted
in this case exploited one of the nation’s busiest transportation
corridors to mask the movement of staggering amounts of contraband —
the volume of methamphetamine being smuggled by these organizations
is virtually unprecedented.”
Dauphinais said the
investigation is continuing as agents look into “spin-off
information we’ve received since they made the arrests.”
with permission of Transport Topics Publishing Group, Copyright
©2013 American Trucking Associations, Inc.
2013 - CMSA