Photos: Border sees armored car sales skyrocket

Photos: Border sees armored car sales skyrocket

Credit: Aktapur Consulting Solutions

Mark, who runs Aktapur Consulting Solutions, asked us not to use his last name over extortion concerns. He uses five armored vehicles to drive business executives south of the border. He is former military, who later worked as private security in Iraq for three years, before deciding to leave that warzone for this one. Mark is pictured here in Iraq.




Posted on May 17, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Updated Sunday, Oct 27 at 2:40 PM

OGDEN, Utah — Stopping bullets is Mark Burton's business.

"You know, this kind of has a James Bond type of feel," he said about International Armoring Corporation, his firm that armors vehicles for executives, celebrities, and heads of state.

"There's a misnomer out there that people think all armored cars are big long limousines or all Mercedes'," Burton said. "That's not the case. As you'll see, we do Jeep Grand Cherokees. We do sedans. I've even done a Volkswagen Beetle before."

His facility, about 45 minutes north of Salt Lake City, isn't adorned with signs and advertisements from the outside. But inside, a team of workers methodically dismantles brand new sedans and SUVs.

During the three-month process, workers cut up the inside of each vehicle to insert different bullet-proof materials into doors, walls, ceiling and floor.

That armor adds about 1,000 lbs to most vehicles, Burton said. Most of the weight is in the windows; they're seven-layered and two-inches thick.

The tires are run-flat.

But sitting next to one at a stop light, these armored vehicles look no different than others on the road.

"To stop an AK-47 or M-16 it would cost $65,000 plus the cost of the vehicle," Burton explained.

Burton said he has bullet-proofed cars for 39 presidents around the world, completed an SUV for boxer Manny Pacquiao, and even armored three "Popemobiles" for the Vatican.

But an increasing number of armored cars are being shipped to the US-Mexico border region.

Juarez, just south of El Paso, Texas is consistently ranked as the first or second most dangerous city on the planet because of the ongoing violence between drug cartels.

Because of that, Burton revealed, International Armoring Corporation's sales are up 300 percent in El Paso over the past 24 months, and an unusual business has been born out of the border violence.

"We started literally overnight," said "Mark," who runs Aktapur Consulting Solutions, but asked us not to use his last name over extortion concerns.

"Right there. See that right there?," he asked while driving along the border in El Paso. "That's where the two consulate employees were killed."

Mark is former military, who later worked as private security in Iraq for three years, before deciding to leave that war zone for this one.

He now sells rides across the border in his five armored cars, including a Ford passenger van. Retrofitted with armor, it's worth $120,000, Mark said.

"We can't guarantee your safety. We never can guarantee your safety. We can just reduce your risk," Mark explained.

Business executives pay his company up to $1,500 a day for him or one of his 10 drivers to escort them down to their Mexican factories in a bullet-proof vehicle. Kidnapping and ransom concerns are a company's biggest fears, Mark said.

Still, cheap labor in Juarez's factories, known as maquiladoras, makes the expense of armored car travel worth it, he added.

So far, all of his trips over the last couple of years have been safe ones.

But after armoring 7,000 vehicles in 50 countries over 20 years, Burton's work has faced tests.

He shared photographs of a badly damaged white Chevrolet Yukon. A 30-lb improvised explosive device destroyed it in Iraq, but those inside walked away.

"We've had over 250 attacks on our vehicles and have not had one of our clients suffer injury or death," Burton boasted.

This Utah factory now sends a couple armored vehicles to El Paso every month, almost 30 a year, he added.

It's a trend that's directly traceable to the violence on the border.