They covered themselves with protective suits, gloves and masks and put plastic bags over their boots. That’s how dangerous the substance was that US Customs and Border Protection officers examined on Wednesday morning.
A cadre of agents – veterans who had confiscated fentanyl, heroin and other illegal narcotics in previous raids – dug their hands and boots deep into a sea of sharp material before hitting paid ground.
Agents said they found nearly two tons of methamphetamine and cocaine worth $10.4 million buried in dozens of watts of fiery jalapeño paste. The cargo was seized from a commercial semi-truck near the Otay Mesa border.
“It was an extremely sensitive situation,” Michael Scappechio, a CBP spokesman, told The Times. “You never really know what you’re dealing with, just when it comes to dangerous narcotics, and then you throw in all the organic material; “We had to get out all the PPE,” or personal protective equipment.
A 28-year-old man with a valid border crossing pass was stopped by officers while transporting his cargo at around 10:36 a.m. on Wednesday. According to Scappechio, the person was a Mexican citizen.
In his electronic manifest, the only items listed under his shipment were barrels of jalapeño paste.
The customs officials decided to check the man’s loot.
“We will not disclose the reasons that led to the further investigation,” said Scappechio, “but it is often assumed that agents are suspected.”
The truck was taken from the border to the nearby inspection facility, where a K-9 unit then searched the load and alerted officers for a full inspection.
There, they dumped barrel-sized vats of jalapeño paste and removed 349 suspicious packages from the vats. Approximately 3,161 pounds of methamphetamine and 523 pounds of cocaine were recovered from the loot.
The driver was turned over to the Department of Homeland Security for arrest and processing, while CBP seized the drugs and trailer.
Never underestimate the power of a dog’s nose.
“Our K-9 teams are an invaluable part of our counternarcotics response, providing a reliable and unparalleled mobile detection capability,” Rosa Hernandez said in a statement. The Otay Mesa port director said CBP has increased its efforts to “secure communities and suppress the growth of transnational criminal organizations, one seizure at a time.”
Last month, the San Diego field office at California’s land borders seized more than 14,000 pounds of narcotics.
But what happens to all that jalapeño paste?
Scappechio said he couldn’t say for sure, but noted that the agency will not “keep organic material for too long” before destroying it. He said the owner could apply to return the property.
“Since the jalapeño paste was full of dangerous drugs,” Scappechio said, “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”