A random check of a car at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro this week led to one of the state’s largest heroin seizures and will cause the drug to be far scarcer in Southern California in the coming weeks, authorities said.
The narcotic is perhaps the most difficult to intercept, officials say, because it is often trafficked in small quantities that are easy to conceal. Agents were visibly gratified to announce Friday that the single investigation captured more than 121 pounds, an amount that could have resulted in more than 700,000 doses on the street.
According to authorities, the inspection that launched their investigation occurred by chance Wednesday afternoon as a drug runner attempted to travel into the United States. Border Patrol agents conducting a routine search uncovered five bundles of heroin hidden inside the car and notified the San Diego headquarters of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE agents, using a surveillance technique they would not disclose, connected that car to a house in a well-kept Anaheim neighborhood next to the Riverside Freeway.
About 11 p.m. Wednesday, agents from ICE’s Santa Ana office joined Anaheim and Irvine police to raid the home. They said they found a spartanly furnished safehouse with several adults, five children younger than 10 and a cache of narcotics.
In addition to the heroin, agents said they discovered 34 pounds of marijuana, 3 pounds of what appeared to be methamphetamine and several thousand dollars. The drugs carried a total wholesale value of $1.3 million and could have garnered $4 million to $6 million at the retail level.
The children were taken into custody by officials from the state Department of Social Services, and six adults were arrested and charged by the U.S. attorney’s office with possession of narcotics with intent to sell. Authorities did not say how many were arrested in the house and how many in the car.
The defendants, who were arraigned Thursday in federal court in Santa Ana, are: Luis Alcantar-Zepeda, 28, Jose Casares-Macias, 22, Rosendo Churape-Cardenas, 37, and Jairo Ortiz-Diaz, 26, all of the Mexican state of Michoacan; and Jacqueline Pimentel, 31, and Rosa Soto, 26, both of Anaheim.
All are being held in the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana and could face life in prison if convicted, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert C. Gannon.
Wayne Rositano, an ICE agent based in Orange County, said investigators were searching for leads that would take them to the organization’s source and retail network. “By no means have we dismantled the organization,” he said.
The heroin was wrapped in bundles marked with an image of the sun or the word “MAYEY,” which agents said was an effort to brand the drug. Both markings were unfamiliar, indicating the organization that brought it to the United States may have been unknown to authorities, Rositano said.
The heroin will undergo tests to determine its purity and to learn where the poppies that produced it were grown.
Brown heroin from Mexico generally has a higher potency than Mexican black tar heroin, and a lower potency than white heroin that is increasingly reaching the United States from Afghanistan.
Though authorities said this was the biggest seizure of brown heroin in California, larger amounts of other types of the drug have been captured.
In 1990, 140 pounds of heroin was seized from a container ship in Long Beach Harbor. A year later, more than 1,000 pounds was seized in the Bay Area.
Researcher John Tyrrell contributed to this report.