ST PAUL, MN – In a joint investigation with TRUNEWS, Alpha News has discovered recent drug busts involving Ford Fusions in Minnesota may be the tip of the iceberg of an ongoing smuggling operation by the cartel of infamous former drug lord ‘El Chapo’ through Ford’s car factory in Mexico.
Between February and March of 2017, approximately 1100 lbs of marijuana with a street value of $1.4 million was found hidden in the trunks of at least 22 brand new Ford Fusions manufactured in Mexico.
On Feb. 10, 2017, the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) responded to a report of narcotics found in two Ford Fusions at Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad’s Dayton’s Bluff vehicle holding lot in St. Paul, Minnesota.
According to the SPPD police report, a BNSF contractor found the drugs while inspecting the cars prior to loading them onto a trailer for transportation to local dealerships.
Eighty pounds of marijuana was discovered hidden in the spare tire wells in the trunks of the two cars. An investigation by the SPPD revealed the Ford Fusions were part of a group of 15 all on the same rail-car, but thirteen of the cars had already been shipped to Ford dealerships, including one sent to Rochester where it was purchased by an 86 year old man.
The other twelve Ford Fusions had been sent to dealerships in Superior, Wisconsin, Apple Valley, Annandale, Shakopee and Minnetonka, Minnesota. Three of the Fusions were also sent to an Enterprise rental car center and were already at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport rental car facility. Police were able to recover all the drugs from the 15 cars: each carrying 40-60 pounds of marijuana in their spare tire wells.
In March of 2017, the Dilworth, Minnesota police had a similar experience when seven Ford Fusions were discovered also carrying caches of marijuana in the spare tire wells. The drugs were discovered by BNSF employees during routine inspections of new cars coming off the trains from Mexico. Dilworth police removed fourteen packages carrying approximately 217 pounds of marijuana, which has a street value of $272,000.
Additionally, Alpha News correspondent Preya Samsundar received information from a Minnesota car salesperson regarding a so-far unreported police raid at their Ford dealership of employment.
The employee, who asked to remain anonymous for job security, said in a message to Alpha News that the dealership “had an enormous police presence” following a raid which was conducted after business hours on Thursday February 9th.
The raid, the employee continued, “subsequently found 2 vehicles, 1 Ford Fusion, and 1 Lincoln MKZ, both imported from Mexico, that had approximately 70 pounds of marijuana wrapped in several layers in the form of a round ‘brick’ that fit in the spare tire wheel well.”
“I was told by SPPD that this is pretty typical,” Rochester Police Detective John Sherwin told Alpha News, “Drugs often come into the US with imported consumer goods.” BNSF seemingly concurs with that analysis according to the SPPD report, which states that the Berkshire Hathaway owned BNSF informed St. Paul police detectives “this was an ongoing problem for them.”
In the SPPD police report the BNSF investigators speculated that the marijuana was likely placed in the Ford Fusions while still they were still in Mexico. They noted “the vehicles would get loaded onto the same railcar,” and then a US-based co-conspirator would “break into the rail cars and recover the narcotics” after the cars cross the border.
“Only 4% of commercial shipments are actually inspected by CBP, leaving a huge opportunity for smuggling drugs, weapons, and people into the United States.”
A licensed US customs broker expanded on the shipping process for commercial freight:
“As part of the quality control and supply chain security protocol for shipping cars into the United States, foreign shippers will require all vehicles to be inspected by the manufacturing facility before being loaded onto railcars for import into the US,” the 13-year industry veteran told TRUNEWS correspondent Edward Szall. “After inspection at the plant, the cars are then loaded onto the train. Ford utilizes a supply chain security program known as Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C-TPAT for short. Shippers can voluntarily enroll in the program, provided they police their own shipments. Factory employees would be the only ones who knew the security rounds, inspection times, and loading schedules.”
“CBP (Customs and Border Protection) relies heavily on pre-importation electronic screening, which reviews the shipment information in a government database and then identifies whether it is to be X-ray or physically inspected by CBP. Importers with the same kind of commodity coming from recognized shippers would probably be less likely to be physically inspected, especially a land-based importation.”
Speculating on where he believed the drugs were loaded onto the Ford Fusions, the source said due to the size of the packages and the considerable concealment methods employed, his theory would be a conspiracy at the Ford manufacturing facility after quality inspection but before loading on to the railcar.
“The plant assembly employees sometimes only make $50 USD a week, leaving a huge window for bribery,” the source said. “It’s not unheard of for impoverished foreign nationals to take payoffs, especially since what the cartels can pay may equal a year’s worth of wages or if they threaten the employee or their family.”
The expert ominously added:
“Only 4% of commercial shipments are actually inspected by CBP, leaving a huge opportunity for smuggling drugs, weapons, and people into the United States. However, CBP has caught drug smugglers who put hiding spots for drugs in the casts of molded parts. It isn’t hard to know which shipment the cars with the drug stash are on. Spotters can identify rail car numbers and shipping manifests are public knowledge. And a couple of pounds of drugs in each car wouldn’t raise an eyebrow like extra weight would in ocean freight.”
An ex-Army Ranger, and a former member of the elite military reconnaissance unit deployed rotationally on the US/Mexico border, told TRUNEWS correspondent Edward Szall this vulnerability is well known and widely exploited by the cartels.
“The drug cartels often use commercial shipments to smuggle assets into the US,” the trained sniper said. “They can bring anything from child prostitutes to fully automatic machine guns to hard drugs into the US from Mexico through this avenue and never get caught.”
The “El Chapo” Connection
The Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles — the cars which were discovered with drugs inside — are manufactured at the Ford plant in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, an area which is controlled by the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel.
The illegal drug trade is big business for Mexico. A Homeland Security study noted that approximately $19-29 billion travels annually from the US to Mexico from illicit drug trade alone. Even as US states vote to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, Mexico remains the number one marijuana supplier to the United States.
Behind Mexico’s dominance in the marijuana industry is an extensive assortment of competing criminal organizations, the largest of which is the Sinaloa drug cartel. This specific international gang of delinquents — also known by locals as the ‘Federation’ — not only dwarfs their domestic rivals, but has claimed the title as the largest drug trafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere.
The Sinaloa drug cartel’s control spans the western Sierra Madre as well as the US-Mexico border region of Tíjuana to Ciudad Juárez, and also has operations inside the United States. According to the DEA, “The Sinaloa Cartel maintains the most significant presence in the United States.”
A July 2015 DEA report noted that as of July 2013, the Sinaloa cartel supplied “80% of the heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine — with a street value of $3 billion — that floods the Chicago region each year.”
The Sinaloa cartel is also established in Minnesota. In February 2017, the Star Tribune reported:
“Federal investigators have established links from Mexico’s Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels to Minnesota drug traffickers, maintaining cells believed to report directly to leaders in Mexico or through intermediaries. And the DEA’s latest National Drug Threat Assessment says that Mexican cartels are expected to be a “dominant influence” in the U.S. drug market for the near term.”
The Sinaloa cartel made international news in 2016 when their former leader, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, known famously across the world by his nickname ‘El Chapo’, escaped from his prison cell in July 2015 through an elaborate scheme involving a mile long man-made tunnel and a smuggled motorbike.
The drug kingpin was recaptured in early 2016 after actor turned amateur journalist Sean Penn blew his cover, and was subsequently extradited to the US for trial in January 2017.
El Chapo’s crime syndicate was brought back into the news earlier this month, when Rolling Stone published “Behind the Scenes of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel”, which highlighted the work of Spanish documentarian David Beriain, who recently spent 3 months embedded with the Sinaloa cartel.
According to Beriain’s series “Clandestino,” the Sinaloa cartel has at least 15,000 hit men under their employment globally, and acts as the unofficial government in its areas of operation.
Rolling Stone noted that the Federation’s smuggling operations aren’t solely limited to drugs and assassins, but also includes guns.
“Two thousand firearms are illegally exported from the United States to Mexico per day,” Rolling Stone wrote. “The only countries more dangerous than Mexico for journalists are Syria and Iraq.”
“Drugs go up, weapons come down,” Beriain said.
Despite the presence of El Chapo’s powerful Sinaloa drug cartel in the area, the Ford Motor Company made the decision to move production of the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ to the region from the US in 2003.
In their press release, Ford sold the move to their shareholders as a cost saving action:
“During the next decade, Ford expects to save up to $2 billion in North America because it’s flexible system will cost 10 percent to 15 percent less than traditional systems, with an added 50 percent savings in changeover costs.”
When asked for a response regarding this story Ford Motor Company declined to comment.
With the discovery of these drug shipments and the potential plant infiltration by the terroristic cartel once run by the infamous kingpin El Chapo, two questions remain:
1) How long has Ford been used as tool for the terroristic activity of Mexican drug lords?
2) Will the existence of this major national security vulnerability be enough to finally motivate Ford to move their plant back to the United States, and curtail their passive contribution to the importation of Mexico’s failed war on drugs to America’s streets?
Reporting by Andrea Mayer-Bruestle/AlphaNews and Edward Szall/TRUNEWS, contributing research by Julia Erynn and Preya Samsunder – AlphaNews
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