Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
With the Mexican-U.S. border shut down to almost all but commercial vehicles, Mexican drug traffickers are managing to deliver illegal narcotics to the doorsteps and other drop points of people who run their distribution networks in the U.S.
Last month, agents from Homeland Security Investigations tracked a Federal Express package of methamphetamine that originated in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, west of Mexico City to an address in the South Valley where agents arrested Jose Israel Villalba on charges of possessing with intent to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Prior to the border closure, most methamphetamine seized in El Paso and New Mexico border crossings was hidden in personal vehicles, according to Homeland Security Department officials. The drugs were often found hidden in tires, secret compartments in dashboards, under car seats and in the car frames.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the U.S.-Mexican border has been open to only essential travel – commercial traffic, people with current work visas and people receiving medical treatment – forcing traffickers to find alternatives – including packages shipped here from Mexico, China and other countries.
Traffickers use everything from the U.S. Postal Service to delivery services like FedEx and UPS.
Homeland Security agents intercepted the package headed for Villalba at a FedEx sorting center, as part of a normal customs inspection, according to court records. It was marked “Unsolicited Gift Dry Cheese in Plastic Bag.”
An X-ray inspection found anomalies, so the package was opened. Agents tested the product, which turned out to include methamphetamine.
Agents said in search warrant affidavits that they found two packages containing a pound and a half of methamphetamine and some other material, presumably dried cheese.
The box was shipped from a Jazmin Medina to Marco Medina. Agents began investigating and found four other packages, some weighing up to 10 pounds, had been shipped since April from the same address in Michoacán to the house on the 3000 block of Viola Drive SW.
The agents replaced the methamphetamine with safe “inert substance” and put a sensor in the box that would alert them when it was opened, then sent the package on its way after obtaining a search warrant that would be served when the box was opened.
Agents conducting the search didn’t find anybody named Marco Medina, but they did find Jose Villalba and his family in the house.
According to the search warrant return, agents also found three pistols and ammunition along with about an ounce of cocaine agents had identified at the FedEx shipping center.
According to court records, Villalba admitted the cocaine was for his personal use.
He told agents he opened the package but claimed to know nothing about the contents.
Villalba was convicted in 2013 of possession of a pound of methamphetamine after he was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. He was sentenced to five years in federal prison and probation.
“Villalba complained that the federal government had ‘stripped him of his rights’ after he was convicted,” according to the criminal complaint, and said he “needed the firearms for protection of his family because he lived in a dangerous neighborhood.”
Villalba is being held without bond awaiting trial in federal court.