Border Patrol Biggest Weirdest Busts of 2017

By Keri Blakinger 08/07/17

Taking inspiration from the Middle Ages, smugglers on the southern border tried using a catapult to fling bundles of pot over the border into the U.S.

A lime next to a bundle of marijuana disguised as a lime.
Smugglers attempted to disguise bundles of marijuana as limes. via Dallas News

From limes to lettuce to buckets of grease, drug-smuggling stash spots are a testament to man’s limitless creativity and undying need for speed (and coke and heroin and pot). Some of the biggest, baddest and weirdest busts every year come courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the agency charged with—among other things—inspecting incoming vehicles and their sometimes suspicious cargo. Here’s a look at some of the more unusual and impressive border stops so far this year.

Dead to Rights

A hearse is a hearse, of course - except when it’s a morbid mechanism for smuggling bud.

Back in April, Border Patrol agents made a bizarre bust in Arizona after they noticed a suspicious white hearse traveling near Tombstone.

Hours after that first sighting, agents spotted the drug-carrying death van once again. But this time the driver made a quick turnaround before hitting the SR 80 Immigration Checkpoint, apparently attempting to avoid authorities. Instead, it aroused their suspicions.

After pulling over the vehicle and getting some inconsistent answers from the driver, agents procured permission to let a drug dog sniff out the vehicle.

The hearse failed the smell test and an ensuing search netted more than 67 pounds of pot valued at around $33,000.

But that wasn’t the only strange find in the drug-packed death van. According to Fronteras, the hearse was loaded up with manure, in an apparent misguided effort to disguise the stench of the drugs. Word of friendly advice to any would-be pot smugglers reading this: Packing a van full of literal shit is actually MORE conspicuous, not less.

Medieval-Minded Smuggling Strategies

Taking unexpected inspiration from the Middle Ages, drug smugglers on the southern border tried attaching a catapult to the border fence and flinging bundles of pot into the U.S. earlier this year.

In a seizure announced in mid-February, agents nabbed two tossed bales of marijuana and a Medieval contraption east of the Douglas Port of Entry in Arizona.

A number of presumed would-be drug traffickers were spotted near the fence on Feb. 10, retreating quickly as agents drew near. Authorities scoured the area to see if the fleeing group had left anything behind and - lo and behold - there was a catapult. Nearby were two bales of drugs, weighing more than 47 pounds. Mexican authorities took the catapult, while Border Patrol took the drugs. But the old-old-school drug runners got away.

Next time, maybe they’ll use something easier to hide - like a crossbow.

A Very Methy Car

Talk about junk in the trunk.

A 24-year-old man was stopped in January at the Presidio border crossing in Texas after an X-ray scan turned up 40 pounds of meth in the front and rear bumper. That was the largest border seizure in the area since a 2004 bust, authorities said.

But the next day - just less than 24 hours later - Border Patrol brought in another massive haul after finding 21 pounds of meth stuffed in the dashboard of a Jetta. Though both busts were impressive on their own, together they amounted to a record-breaking speed seizure.

"The narcotic interception Wednesday morning set a new crystal methamphetamine seizure record for the port," Presidio Port of Entry Director Steven Green said in a release. "Due to the vigilance and dedication of our officers these dangerous drugs never made it to American streets."

Blow by the Bucket

Some greasy-fingered drug smugglers were caught red-handed with dozens of pounds of creatively stashed drugs near the Laredo checkpoint.

Back in March, agents at a Border Patrol checkpoint on State Highway 59 referred a truck to secondary inspection after questioning the passenger and driver about their immigration status.

But during the more thorough look at the vehicle, authorities discovered buckets full of grease – with bundles of cocaine and marijuana hidden inside. The drugs totaled roughly 80 pounds, including around $405,000 of coke and $54,000 of pot.

A Corny Case of Canned Coke

It wasn’t quite corn in those cans.

Back in January, Border Patrol agents at New York City’s JFK International Airport found seven pounds of blow stashed inside cans labelled as tuna and corn.

A U.S. citizen was headed back stateside from a trip to Ecuador when the collection of cans in his suitcase raised some suspicions. Officers shepherded him off to a private search room and after further investigation discovered the cans all allegedly tested positive for cocaine.

The canned coke weighed about 7 pounds with an estimated street value around $127,000.

The can-carrier was arrested and handed over to Homeland Security to face federal prosecution for drug-smuggling charges.

“Cocaine is a dangerous narcotic, and CBP does its part in keeping these drugs off the streets,” said New York Field Operations Director Robert E. Perez. “Our officers are determined to protect the American people from these illicit substances.”

The Other Veggie Tales

These weren’t the kind of greens momma told you to eat.

When a tractor trailer hauling a shipment of lettuce through the Lone Star State’s Laredo checkpoint was referred for a secondary inspection, agents stumbled across some greenery stashed with the vegetables.

A drug dog detected the sweet odor of sinsemilla and agents embarked on a physical inspection to uncover 5,754 packages of pot hidden with heads of lettuce. The haul totaled around 3,700 pounds of the green stuff, with a street value of $741,186.

Border Patrol took the drugs and handed the investigation over to Homeland Security. (No word on what happened to the lettuce.)

“This is truly an example of our CBP officers’ hard work, experience and dedication to the CBP mission,” Laredo Port Director Gregory Alvarez said in a statement. “I congratulate the officers in advancing the CBP mission and protecting the public from illegal narcotics.”

Now if only CBP could get you to eat your vegetables.

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Heroin

This gives a new meaning to a “dope” sound system.

A 31-year-old Mexican man was trying to cross into Arizona in June when Border Patrol referred his Chevy truck for further inspection.

An alert canine quickly uncovered something awry in the truck’s speaker box – and upon further examination, authorities discovered more than 10 pounds of coke and 5 pounds of heroin. The drugs had a combined value of just over $200,000.

The drugs and truck were seized and the driver was turned over to federal authorities.

The press release didn’t specify what tunes the accused smuggler was bumping at the time of his arrest, so we’ll just imagine him belting out “Casey Jones” and ripping lines off the back of his hand like some sort of deleted scene from “Fear and Loathing.”

A Fruit-Brained Failure

A fruity seizure landed a truck of fake fruit in the limelight earlier this year when Border Patrol agents discovered 3,947 pounds of “alleged marijuana” poorly disguised as a shipment of key limes.

The January 30 seizure followed a secondary inspection of a 2001 Freightliner trailer crossing the Pharr International Bridge into Texas. Between drug dogs and use of a non-intrusive imaging system (as well as a basic understanding of what limes actually look like), agents found 34,764 imposter limes containing around $789,467 of pot.

“This is an outstanding interception of narcotics. Our CBP officers continue to excel in their knowledge of smuggling techniques which allows them to intercept these kinds of attempts to introduce narcotics into our country,” Port Director Efrain Solis Jr said in a statement.

What’s most surprising about this bust is just how astonishingly un-lime-like this pseudo-citrus load looks. A 4-year-old wouldn’t fall for these fakes and it’s exceedingly unclear why Border Patrol might be expected to, either. Again, advice to would-be drug smugglers: have at least a passing familiarity with the item you are disguising your drugs as - your faux fruits aren’t fooling anyone.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.