Note: The local version of the "nini" problem "What's gotten back
to the parents is that the kid was kidnapped here in Santa Cruz
County and taken into Mexico and executed." No, ain't no spillover
here, just keep moving.
Busts of U.S. teens at ports illustrate lure of drug money
By Jonathan Clark
Published Friday, April 29, 2011 10:04 AM CDT
In four distinct incidents on the same day last week, federal
authorities caught four U.S. teenagers they accuse of participating
in the cross-border drug trade.
The arrests on April 20 included an 18-year-old woman and a 19-year-
old man, both U.S. citizens, who were detained at the Morley gate
when they allegedly tried to enter the United States with
methamphetamines strapped to their bodies.
That same day, two blocks away at the DeConcini port of entry, U.S.
Customs and Border Protection officers nabbed an 18-year-old woman,
also a U.S. citizen, as she tried to walk into Mexico with more than
$28,000 in undeclared cash in her purse. Meanwhile, 25 miles north at
the Interstate 19 checkpoint, Border Patrol agents were pulling 88
pounds of marijuana out of a car driven by a 17-year-old boy, another
Investigators say they've seen an increasing number of local
teenagers involved in cross-border smuggling in the Nogales area
during the past year. Teenagers are susceptible to the lure of quick
money, they say, and U.S. citizens from the local area can make for
good drug carriers if they are familiar and trusted faces at the
Kevin Kelly, assistant special agent in charge for Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in
Nogales, said clusters of busts like those last Wednesday indicate
that smugglers have clued in on a modus operandi that they think will
"These drug trafficking organizations, they have some pretty
intelligent people choreographing and running these loads," he said.
"They're analyzing how they can get it through. If it works, they're
going to use it."
A similar phenomenon occurred last month, when three U.S. teenagers
were arrested at Nogales ports of entry in two days.
In the first incident, a 14-year-old local youth was detained at the
Morley gate on March 17 after CBP officers found two packages of
methamphetamines concealed on his body. The next day, a 17-year-old
boy tried to enter the U.S. at the Morley pedestrian crossing with
nearly two pounds of methamphetamines and more than $28,000 taped to
his body. Over at the DeConcini port, CBP officers discovered 13
packages of cocaine and methamphetamines worth more than $230,000
hidden in the radiator of a car driven by an 18-year-old U.S. man.
County Attorney George Silva said that in addition to criminal
penalties, kids like these also suffer retribution from the drug
traffickers whose load they lost.
"I tell the kids, 'Look, if you get involved, you better hope that we
get you, because if we don't, somebody else will,'" he said.
Silva pointed to one example in which an 18-year-old local teen was
busted with a 200-pound drug load. He was convicted and sentenced,
but his punishment didn't end with his prison term.
"When he got out, that same week, his parents reported him missing.
They haven't found him since," Silva said. "What's gotten back to the
parents is that the kid was kidnapped here in Santa Cruz County and
taken into Mexico and executed."
The U.S. Border Patrol, through its "Operation Detour" program, has
given presentations on the perils of drug smuggling to thousands of
high school students in Nogales and Rio Rico. Last fall, former
Arizona Attorney general Terry Goddard delivered $50,000 to the Boys
and Girls Club of Santa Cruz County for the club's gang prevention
program, with the specific purpose of steering kids away from
smuggling. And the Sheriff's Office, county attorney and Nogales
Police Department all conduct regular outreach efforts.
Silva said his presentations stress zero tolerance. If local law
enforcement catches you with drugs, Silva tells the kids, he will
pursue a felony conviction, regardless of the amount involved. And he
reminds juveniles that there are provisions that allow him to
prosecute them as adults for drug offenses.
Still, despite the potential consequences from law enforcement and/or
drug traffickers, Silva said, the lure of easy money can be too much
"If somebody flashes $1,000 in their face and says, 'This is yours if
you drive a car from point A to point B,' it can be too much for
these kids to resist," he said.
American teenagers face intense peer pressure to wear the right brand
of clothing or sneakers, he said. Or they're desperate to have their
own car, or the coolest rims for that car. Others just want cash to
escape poverty. Drug trafficking organizations know these weaknesses
and are adept at exploiting them, Silva said.
"When some of these kids are arrested and we ask them why they did
it, they say, 'Because I wanted to help my mom, I wanted to help my
dad," Silva said. "These are good kids with a good heart, but they
lose themselves in that easy money. Instead of going down to
McDonald's and getting a job and making minimum wage, they're going
to do something that gets them $1,000 in half an hour or an hour."