EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Smugglers caught at the border often tell law enforcement they did not know drugs were in their vehicle.
While most of the time this turns out to be false, federal officials in El Paso say some border residents are being tricked into bringing drugs from Mexico.
“We are seeing quite a few cases at the ports of entry where individuals have been solicited on Facebook for job opportunities transporting money to money exchange houses,” said Erik P. Breitzke, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso. “However, a vast majority of these solicitations are fraudulent.”
Those who respond to the ads are asked to go to Juarez, Mexico, for a job interview. The interview takes place in a non-descript office or in a parking lot, and while the candidate is talking to his new boss, someone else is hiding drugs in the car.
“These organizations are taking these folks vehicles, secreting drugs in those vehicles and those folks are getting stopped and caught at the ports of entry,” Breitzke said.
The scam lets the smugglers avoid the risk of immediate arrest should their unknowing “mule” get caught. If the driver makes it past customs, he is instructed over the telephone to drive to a location so he can deliver small amounts of money or paperwork. Meantime, someone off loads the drugs in his vehicle.
One ad HSI agents have come across states: “Our company is looking for individuals who are able to cross into El Paso. We work directly with the (money exchange houses) and transport money from El Paso and Ciudad Juarez (Mexico).”
Breitzke urges people who come across the web ads to think things through before responding. “If an opportunity seems too good, it probably is. It has been enough of a trend that we needed to alert the community that this is happening.”
Red flags should go off right away if an applicant is being interviewed in a parking lot away from his car, Breitzke said, or if the prospective employer asks him to surrender his keys to make sure the vehicle is in working order. More red flags should go up if someone on the U.S. end asks for the courier’s car instead of just taking a package or envelope.
HSI advises job seekers to research the name and address of the company that is recruiting them. Federal officials say legitimate businesses don’t usually interview applicants in parking lots nor ask to inspect their car away from their view.
Breitzke urges U.S. residents who come across these ads or someone who outright asks them to bring drugs across the border to call HSI. The number is 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423).
“Individuals caught with contraband in their vehicles risk being arrested and convicted,” Breitzke said. “Do not allow yourself to be used as a smuggler.”