Operation VaqueroPosted: Updated:
As the battle along the border heats up, efforts to slow drug smuggling are paying off. The fence, which stretches along the southern border of our state is impressive in size and location. It appears almost impenetrable -- almost being the key word.
A ramp truck with hydraulics is one of the ways drug smugglers get around it -- or over it as the case would be.
The truck is used by drug smugglers to allow vehicles to drive right over the fence "Basically, their only limitation was their imagination," explained Arizona's U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. "They were constantly thinking up new ways to get around law enforcement and the surveillance."
Viewing a night vision video clip gives you an idea of what law enforcement is up against.
It shows the smugglers in one of the most recent bust -- Operation Vaquero -- letting the ramp truck do its thing. Like a giant butterfly spreading its wings, the ramps go up and over the fence, and then so do the vehicles smuggling drugs.
"They pull up a truck right to the border fencing and there would be ramp built onto the vehicle, then they would cross cars, truckloads over on top of the fencing," Burke said "Our fencing is only as effective as high as their ramping can go."
Operation Vaquero resulted in not just this video, but also a much better understanding of how the smugglers operate.
"This was a very sophisticated drug smuggling organization," Burke said. "It took about three years to get to the heart of it. They used radio counter surveillance. They used ramps to go over border fencing to bring loads of marijuana. They used hidden compartments, sealed compartments on commercial trucks that came through the border." These men are still on the run after the crackdown of Operation Vaquero, a three-year effort. But 34 others both in the U.S. and Mexico have been arrested.
The operation is also believed to have put a dent in the Sinaloa Cartel's operation.
This group may have been bringing 40,000 pounds of marijuana into Arizona each year. "So any drug smuggling coming from Mexico through the Arizona border is going to be controlled by a cartel, and usually in our area it's controlled by the Sinaloan cartel," Burke said. "It's actually run by a guy named Chapo Guzman who actually turned up on the Forbes 500 list wealthiest people in the world. That was in 2008. Last year, Forbes called Guzman one of the most powerful people in the world."
That brings Burke to the next prong of the government's attack -- going after the money. Last month, $500,000 was seized at the Nogales port of entry.
"That's money that's hard currency and that's headed straight to the cartels and that fuels what they do," Burke said. "Now if you start whacking them with regards to their money, it's going to have a huge impact on how they operate and the profits they're making."
Burke expects to make more major announcements regarding efforts to fight the drug cartels In the upcoming weeks. He also said the Mexican government has been cooperating in recent investigations and prosecutions.