Border Patrol agents in California seized over $3 million headed to Mexican drug cartels this week, according to a report from CNN.
“This is one of our larger cash seizures,” said Ralph DeSio, a spokesman for the San Diego office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to CNN. He explained that the large sums often reported in Border Patrol seizures are usually the estimated street values of confiscated drugs.
The Border Patrol stated some of its biggest previous cash hauls totaled $300,000, $51,000 and $43,000, relatively small numbers when compared to the $3 million seized this week.
The money was seized Tuesday during two traffic stops made by Border Patrol agents in Escondido, a town just north of San Diego and about only 40 miles from the Mexican border, CNN reports.
One agent discovered $34,000 stashed in the console of a Kia Forte he pulled over. A 53-year-old American was arrested in that stop.
In a second stop, Border Patrol agents located a Volkswagen Passat suspected of being part of the same currency smuggling operation as the Kia, the agency said according to CNN. They seized $3,018,000, found in the trunk of the Passat and arrested the driver, a 41-year-old Mexican national. The man was charged with suspicion of currency smuggling.
California is one of the nation’s hubs for drug and human trafficking and money laundering and smuggling for Mexican cartels.
In 2014, CNN reported that federal agencies considered Los Angeles the epicenter of cartel money laundering.
“Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Dugdale said at the time, according to a contemporary CNN report.
Los Angeles may be the epicenter, but the money seized in nearby San Diego this week is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the amounts of drug cash seized in other stops and raids made across the country.
In late June, 7 News Miami reported that Miami-Dade Police officers seized $24 million in cash from the home of the owner of a store being used as a front for a marijuana trafficking operation spanning from south Florida and Tennessee. The money was found in 24 buckets hidden with the walls of the home, with each bucket containing $1 million in cash.
Police also found a “high-powered gun” in the attic of the home, and a safe with an additional $180,000 and marijuana seeds for “Superchunk” and “Chernobyl” strands of the plant, according to 7 News Miami.
Local and state police agencies also seized $23 million in Mexican cartel cash during Operation Four Horseman in the Atlanta area in 2011, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time. Twenty-three people were arrested and 567 kilograms of cocaine were also seized during that bust.
Like Los Angeles on the west coast, Atlanta is a major hub for trafficking and laundering on the east coast.
Operation Four Horseman revealed that cartel cells operating in Atlanta, received “multi-kilogram shipments of cocaine that arrived in tractor-trailers from Mexico.”
“After the drug traffickers received the cocaine shipments, they shipped millions of dollars in U.S. currency back to Mexico by concealing the money in tractor-trailers and other vehicles,” the Drug Enforcement Agency reported at the time.
Seizures like the one made Tuesday are crucial in fighting the flow of drugs into the U.S. from Mexico. Of course, trafficking in the U.S. becomes far less attractive to cartels if the cash is seized and never makes it back to them, CNN notes.
The Border Patrol turned over the two suspects it arrested Tuesday in connection to the seized cash to Homeland Security, according to CNN. The suspects now face federal charges for currency smuggling for the seized cash.
[Photo by U.S. Border Patrol/AP Images]