WASHINGTON – If you recently bought a new car manufactured in a Mexican auto plant, you might want to perform a routine examination of your vehicle, like checking the spare tire – especially if it's a Ford Fusion.
While law-enforcement authorities in Ohio and at the Drug Enforcement Agency announced this week the discovery of more than $1 million of marijuana hidden within bogus spare tires of new cars transported by rail, a WND investigation suggests the incident may be just the tip of the iceberg.
More than 400 pounds of marijuana was found packed inside of new Ford cars that were made in Mexico and shipped to Northeast Ohio.
The discovery was made when a service employee for a Ford dealership in Portage County, Ohio, noticed a suspicious package in the trunk of a brand new Ford Fusion during a routine inspection. The car had just been taken off the transport carrier. The package was pressed marijuana, placed in the vehicle to look like a spare tire.
Authorities found the car had been shipped by train from Mexico to the rail yard in Ohio. At the rail yard they found five more loads of marijuana in five other new Ford Fusions. Later, they found nine more packages in new Fusions already shipped to other Ohio locations and one in Pennsylvania.
All the cars were manufactured in Mexico, crossed over the border in Arizona and then were taken by train to the same rail yard in Warren. All had their spare tire removed and replaced with the same tire-shaped marijuana package. In total, over 400 pounds of marijuana was seized.
But this is hardly the first time such as discovery has been made.
In April, a truck driver transporting new Ford Fusions originating in a Mexican Ford plant to Minnesota discovered two of the cars had 20-pound blocks of marijuana molded into the shape of spare tires. His find led to an investigation by railway police of 15 more new Fusions loaded similarly with pot – 13 of which had already been delivered to dealers in the state.
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In one of the cars, a package weighing 50 pounds was found in a car purchased by the 86-year-old man.
Ford is said to be cooperating with the investigation. All of the vehicles were assembled in Ford's Hermosillo, Mexico, plant, which is located within the territory of the Sinaloa drug cartel previously headed by the notorious "El Chapo," or Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera.
Reportedly, the Mexican military has seized more drugs hidden in spare-tire wells of cars on the same railway. And between February and March of this year, approximately 1,100 pounds of pot with a street value of $1.4 million was found in 22 new Ford Fusions manufactured in Mexico.
A St. Paul police report said investigators believe the pot was placed in the cars while they were still in Mexico, possibly by cartel operatives who broke into railcars replacing actual spare tires with bogus, drug-packed look-alikes. They speculate that U.S. operatives would break into the rail cars to retrieve the pot on the other side of the border.
But some got through – all the way to dealerships.
Only 4 percent of commercial shipments are actually inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol authorities, leaving the vast majority unscreened, representing a huge opportunity for smuggling drugs and weapons into the U.S.
Other inspections are performed by Ford employees on the Mexican side of the border. But many plant employees earn as little as $50 a week in Mexico.
Drugs have also been found in cars destined for the U.S. in casts of molded parts.
A Homeland Security study found approximately $19-29 billion travels annually from the U.S. to Mexico from illicit drug trade alone.
A July 2015 DEA report noted that 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 made international headlines last year when its former leader, nicknamed "El Chapo," escaped from his prison cell through a scheme involving a mile long man-made tunnel and a smuggled motorcycle. The drug kingpin was recaptured in early 2016 after actor-turned-amateur-journalist Sean Penn blew his cover. He was subsequently extradited to the U.S. for trial.
The Sinaloa cartel reportedly has at least 15,000 hit men employed globally, and acts as the unofficial government in its areas of operation.
Ford moved its plant from the U.S. to Mexico in 2003, selling the deal as a cost-saving action. In a news release at the time, Ford announced: "During the next decade, Ford expects to save up to $2 billion in North America because its flexible system will cost 10 percent to 15 percent less than traditional systems, with an added 50 percent savings in changeover costs."