Finding Ways Around Checkpoints
On a weekday morning in early March, 18,665 pounds of marijuana were caught being smuggled aboard two trucks, one a flatbed, the other a tanker truck driving through the Briscoe Ranch on a road that circumvents a Border Patrol checkpoint.
They were on a private road leased to energy companies and carrying what looked like supplies typically used in oil field operations but were instead loaded with marijuana. The two trucks yielded the most pot ever caught in one day by the Border Patrol's Del Rio Sector.
One of the truck drivers, who was not an employee of the energy industry, later admitted to agents that he was to be paid $7,500 to deliver the load, according to an affidavit at the federal courthouse in Del Rio.
Other big South Texas catches came in July last year when Border Patrol agents stopped a bogus oil field truck carrying 1,373 pounds of marijuana, and in June when they found 3,529 pounds of the drug stashed in a truck driven by an energy company worker.
Deb Hastings, executive vice president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, serves on a council that advises Texas' governor on ways to coordinate the needs of the private sector with those of security. "Safety and security are top priorities for oil and gas operators in Texas," Hastings said in a prepared statement. But the explosion of activity also has brought new economic prosperity. "It has been incredible, hundreds of jobs have been created," said Webb County Judge Danny Valdez, whose county spans 3,360 square miles and borders three Mexican states. "As a county, we depend on these revenues, we welcome it." At the same time, he conceded that law enforcement in his county is already stretched. "Webb County is a vast land," he said. "We need to find a way to work together."
The South Texas High Intensity Drug Traffic Area, a coalition of state and federal law enforcement agencies, sent a threat assessment to the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House in June warning that the shale boom is enabling traffickers to bypass so-called choke points, where the Border Patrol has traditionally been able to stop and question all traffic on highways leading from the border region.
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