Thursday, July 18, 2013



Note:  Note especially important, but interesting numbers.

Seized vehicles are bonanza for local buyers   

Curt Prendergast
Seized cars

Area residents crowd into the auction lot on Hohokam Drive on Saturday morning to bid on 101 vehicles that had been seized during smuggling busts at local ports of entry and stash houses.

Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 9:00 am | Updated: 1:20 pm, Tue Jul 16, 2013.
By Curt Prendergast
Nogales International |
1 comment

"Tres mil cien, thirty-one hundred, do I hear thirty-one hundred? Going once, going twice, sold to number one for three thousand!"
Those were the rapid-fire words uttered by Araceli Serrano, asset forfeiture manager for the County Attorney's Office, as she auctioned off a 1999 Dodge pickup truck, 
one of 101 vehicles up for sale Saturday morning at a lot on Hohokam Drive in Nogales.

The sedans, vans, pickup trucks, and trailers featured at the auction were seized during drug-smuggling busts at local ports of entry and stash houses used by smugglers. 
That amounts to bad news for smugglers, but a bonanza of cheap vehicles for local residents.
About 100 people gathered on Saturday morning to bid on the vehicles or to just check out what was available. 
Some of the vehicles will end up being used as graduation gifts for local high school students, while others will be sold across the border in Nogales, Sonora.
Some bidders said they were in the market for vans for their family, or to buy junk cars to sell off as parts, but the main draw was the pickup trucks. 
Every time bidding began on one of the half-dozen pickups, an electric current ran through the crowd as they jostled for a better vantage point.

The auctions are held every few months, Serrano said, and their popularity among local residents is growing.
"More people come now than in years past, but we also have more cars now," she said.

The auctions normally include 65-70 vehicles that bring in around $100,000, but Saturday's auction featured 101 vehicles and brought in about $160,000,
 all of which goes into an anti-racketeering fund that can only be used for law enforcement activities, Serrano said.

Still, Saturday's roster of 75 registered bidders was smaller than the auction held in January, said Ricardo Escamilla, a 54-year-old resident of Nogales, Sonora.
"People have more money in January than now, " he said, noting that the produce industry is in peak season during the winter months and workers are flush with cash.
For Escamilla, the auction is a chance to switch out an older car for a newer one without spending a fortune, he said.
His is but one of a variety of reasons that local residents come to the auctions.
For Nogales, Sonora-resident Sergio Jimenez, 30, the auction on Saturday helps him make ends meet. 
He buys vehicles at the auction and takes them across the border, where his brother fixes them and then sells them at a makeshift used car dealership known as El Hoyo, or The Hole. 
(As referenced in "Used car lot brings U.S. vehicles to Mexican buyers," NI, June 21.)
"When there's no other work, we maintain ourselves by doing this," he said as he waited for the auction to begin on Saturday.
Jimenez also heads up I-19 to auctions in Tucson, but because he doesn't have a license to bid in those auctions, he has to pay a broker, he said, which cuts into the approximately $500 profit he makes on each vehicle.

Silverio Gutierrez, 40, also of Nogales, Sonora, is a regular at these auctions, where he buys vehicles to sell or for personal use. On Saturday, he picked up a Dodge diesel pickup truck and a red all-terrain vehicle.
Oscar Noriega, a friend of Gutierrez and owner of an auto parts store in Nogales, Sonora, checks out the vehicles online before he heads to the auctions. He was waiting for a pickup truck to go up for bidding on Saturday, but if he finds anything he can sell for parts at his store, he said he'd snatch it up.

Juan Guerra, a resident of Nogales, Ariz, was in the market for a van for his family on Saturday morning. He has purchased two other vehicles at these auctions in the past and with each vehicle, he said he is consistently pulled over for secondary inspection when crossing the border. On Saturday, he outbid his competitors on a van, but will have to replace the seats, which were ripped out during the bust. 

Bust to bonanza
After the vehicles are seized during a smuggling bust, they end up in one of two places.
If the U.S. Attorney's Office declines to prosecute the smuggling case, then the vehicles, following forfeiture proceedings, become the property of the County Attorney's Office, Serrano said.
 If the U.S. Attorney's Office decides to prosecute the case, the vehicles are hauled to the Rod Robertson lot on Bodega Drive to await an auction.

Due to the fact that the vehicles, most of them with Arizona, Sonora, or California license plates, had been used for drug-smuggling, authorities tried to ensure that an auction customer wouldn't turn into an unwitting drug smuggler, including a final inspection by two K-9 units on Tuesday, July 9 to take one last sniff for drugs and contraband.
Neither Serrano nor John Zuniga, coordinator for the Nogales Police Department's K-9 units who did final inspections of the vehicles, reported ever finding drugs still hidden in vehicles up for auction.

Still, for Jimenez, the thorough inspections reassured him that buying the vehicles would not mean a trip to prison. "I like that they inspect the cars," he said. "I don't want to get busted with drugs when I cross."
In order for the vehicles bought at auction in Nogales, Ariz. to be legal in Mexico, Jimenez must pay a fee – recently raised from about $400 to $900 per car – and drive to a customs checkpoint located 21 kilometers south of Nogales, Sonora. Once there, he files the necessary paperwork and then returns to Nogales, Sonora.

In many cases, the drugs or contraband were hidden in false compartments built into the vehicle, Serrano said. However, the County Attorney's Office cannot legally sell any vehicles with false compartments, she said.
"We don't want to sell anybody a car with a false compartment because they will have problems crossing the border, with CBP," she said.
The "natural" compartments where contraband is found, such as inside fenders, are welded shut before they are taken to the auction lot, she said.

In addition to vehicles, the auction also featured items seized at stash houses, which includes "anything you can possibly think of," Serrano said. Furniture, home decorations, bicycles, clothes washers and dryers were stacked in piles in a separate area of the auction lot. While most of the seized items go up for auction, seized clothes are donated to the Nogales Crossroads Mission, she said.
An enormous stack of bags filled with charcoal was also up for sale, seized at a local port of entry with marijuana hidden among the bags, she said.
Auction prices
Here are some of the sale prices at Saturday's auction:
  • 2006 Honda CR-X40 sedan: $1,500
  • 2004 Ford Ranger pickup truck: $3,200
  • 1998 Dodge van: $900
  • Horse trailer: $3,600
  • Junk sedan: $500


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