Southern California breaking news and trends

This Mustang thinks it's a DeLorean: $5M in narcotics seized at the border

Photo credit: San Diego/Imperial County CBP

Cocaine found by CPB officials in one of four major drug seizures at the U.S./Mexico border over the weekend of 10/19-10/21.

Photo credit: San Diego/Imperial County CBP

Packages of heroin and methamphetamine found by CPB officials in one of four major drug seizures at the U.S./Mexico border over the weekend of 10/19-10/21.

Cocaine and brown and black heroin were found by CPB officials in the wooden frame of this wicker basket during one of four major drug seizures at the U.S./Mexico border over the weekend of 10/19-10/21.

With a bumper of cocaine, and aspirations of DeLorean infamy, a Mustang was busted at the border last weekend as part of a $5.2 million narcotics seizure by San Diego/Imperial County Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.

The Mustang was found Friday at the San Ysidro port of entry, saddled with 46 pounds of cocaine riding along in the rear bumper. A Ford F-150 was caught with cocaine concealed in its dashboard hours later in Calexico.

On Saturday, the Otay Mesa port produced a Mazda hiding heroin and methamphetamine in its non-factory, undercarriage compartment. On Sunday, the wooden frame of a trunk-traveling wicker basket brought in bundles of brown and black heroin and cocaine.

685 pounds of narcotics were seized in total from the four incidents, and all four drivers were transported to local jails, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security news release. 


Sea weed: 50 smuggled tons of marijuana seized off SoCal coast

coast guard marijuana

Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard/PA3 Henry G. Dunphy

This is what approximately eight tons of marijuana looks like. (Image taken at a 2009 bust in San Diego.)

With the Coast Guard catching 8,500 pounds of green cargo on Wednesday, authorities say they've now seized an overwhelming 50 tons of marijuana from smuggling boats off the coast of Southern California so far this fiscal year.

The quantity of incoming sea weed -- four times the amount seized in the entire previous fiscal year -- has an estimated street value of $90.7 million.

Maritime smuggling, of people and drugs, has expanded from the U.S./Mexican border, to as far north as Santa Barbara County, say officials.



Weeds in the wild: Marijuana boat sentencing, Tujunga sanctuary arrest

Mercer 20179

Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Marijuana plantation.

The Ventura County Star reports that 29-year-old Pedro Lopez-Rocha will serve a six year federal prison sentence for smuggling half a ton of marijuana into the U.S. on a panga boat that came ashore near Malibu in January. Investigators say the man sent a text to someone in L.A. announcing the boat's arrival from Ensenada.

Lopez-Rocha and two other Mexican men were arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents while unloading more than 45 bales of marijuana. He will be deported to Mexico after serving the sentence, said prosecutors. The codefendants were sentenced to a year in prison. 

Meanwhile, at the Tujunga Ponds Wildlife Sanctuary, deputies have arrested a 51-year-old man for illegally building a makeshift house in which he was growing marijuana.

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators said that Robert Downs was found in a remote section of the SoCal sanctuary where he'd erected a crude structure and surrounding area that included bunk beds, a rock patio, barbecue, tables, and eight potted pot plants.


When turtles fly: Reptile smuggler gets prison time for snack-box stunt

Turtle Smuggling

AP Photo/US Attorney's Office

Two men, Atsushi Yamagami and Norihide Ushirozako both of Osaka, Japan, were arrested Jan. 7, 2011, at Los Angeles International Airport for smuggling more than 50 live turtles and tortoises into the United States.

Atsushi Yamagami was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay about $18,000 in fines for his "leadership role" in smuggling 55 live turtles and tortoises into the U.S. in snack food boxes inside of a suitcase. 

The Japan-based ringleader was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles. The 40-year-old from Osaka, Japan, belived to be involved in a years-long illegal import operation, pleaded guilty last year to one felony count of smuggling.

Yamagami has been in custody for the past 15 months. He has six months left of his sentence before he is permitted to return home, said U.S. District Judge George H. King. 

Defense attorney Kiana Sloan-Hillier told the court that federal detention had been unusually hard on the defendant, saying, "He's a very small person and alone," adding that he received very few visitors and did not speak English.


Feds cut off international rhino horn smuggling ring

Black Rhinoceros

Photo by Arno Meintjes via Flickr Creative Commons

20 rhino horns, diamonds, Rolex watches, approximately $1 million in cash, and $1 million in gold bars were seized from suspected smugglers last weekend when more than 150 federal agents led raids across several states in a coordinated effort to interrupt an international ring trafficking in sawed-off rhinoceros horns.

Deputy chief of law enforcement for the wildlife service, Edward Grace, said the arrests and seizures followed an 18-month investigation by federal wildlife agents. 

Three of the alleged smugglers caught in Southern California were 49-year-old Jimmy Kha, his 41-year-old girlfriend Mai Nguyen, and Kha's 26-year-old son Felix, the L.A. Times reports. The suspects -- arrested last week at Los Angeles International Airport -- face four counts each of rhino horn trafficking in violation of federal laws protecting rare and endangered species.