Two Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) port inspectors on June 18 caught individuals trying to smuggle $1,230,385 in U.S. currency in a commercial truck-tractor and box trailer during a routine agricultural inspection at the Sanders Port of Entry inspection station in Arizona.
The port is located on Interstate 40 west of the Arizona/New Mexico border.
A commercial truck unit owned by the JCLL Trucking Company was hauling produce that required ADA inspection. A driver and two passengers were in the tractor.
The inspectors from ADA’s plant services division conducted a thorough inspection of the load - a mixture of watermelons and onions, along with the paperwork accompanying the load.
ADA inspectors noticed several indicators that led them to be suspicious of the shipment. Rotting produce and inconsistent stories from the driver about the origin of the produce immediately tipped off inspectors that something was wrong.
The inspectors also observed that the tire rack under the trailer had a brand new spare tire secured with an unusually large padlock.
Inspectors checked the driver’s information through the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division and found the insurance was expired. The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) was immediately contacted due to the suspicious activity.
After the DPS’ arrival and their inspection of the truck, trailer, and interviewing the occupants, $10,000 in cash was found in the passenger section of the tractor.
At the urging of the ADA inspectors, DPS examined the spare tire, which once pried open contained the $1.2 million.
The three truck occupants were taken into custody by DPS officers, interviewed further, and later released. An investigation will determine if formal charges will be filed.
The truck-tractor and trailer unit were seized and the produce load was removed for destruction because of its deteriorating condition. The investigation is continuing.
ADA credited the find to highway criminal interdiction and anti-terrorism training for its inspectors that included methods of concealment frequently used in the drug trade and possible terrorist activities.
It is believed from the initial stages of the investigation that the large amount of currency resulted from proceeds from an illegally conducted enterprise and the shipment was headed back to the criminal organization, ADA said.