U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stopped a suspicious tractor trailer, believed to be carrying a load of fruit, late Thursday in Tucson, Arizona. After a closer inspection, that included X-ray imaging, the agents were shocked to discover the load was actually packages of marijuana, painted to look like watermelons.
"These criminals use a lot of unique ways to try to conceal their narcotics," Tucson CBP Agent Bryan Flowers told Fox News. "We've seen individuals use false compartments in the seats and gas tanks. We've also found marijuana in tractor trailers here before.”
The truck was inbound from Mexico and had already crossed the border 20 miles south, near Nogales, Arizona. The stop occurred at a second checkpoint on Interstate 19.
The load was handed over to Drug Enforcement Administration officials who estimated the street value of the drugs to be in the millions. The driver remains in custody.
Flowers said this isn’t the first time smugglers have used fruit to disguise contraband. He pointed to a 2010 case in which agents seized 9,500 pounds of marijuana that was hidden in a load of real watermelons.
A smaller load was discovered in Texas earlier this year too. KXAN reported in April that Fayette County Sheriff’s officers stopped a truck on Interstate 10 that also appeared to be hauling watermelons.
After receiving permission to inspect the shipment, the officers discovered 2,100 pounds of marijuana stashed in the trailer. They estimated the value of the drugs to be $925,000.
The recent busts mean that drug smugglers will likely change up their methods. A recent Washington Post article cites a phenomenon, that University of Pittsburgh professor Michael Kenney calls “competitive adaptation,” in which smugglers continue to develop new methods of concealment in response to law enforcement innovations.
The cycle of innovation perpetuates itself because law enforcement officials will also continue to search for ways to foil concealment efforts.
If that’s the case then CBP agents will also have to come up with a way to detect illegal drugs in baked goods.
CBS-New York reported CBP agents at Newark Liberty International Airport caught a Guatemalan man trying to smuggle $52,000 worth of cocaine into the country. The cocaine, which was discovered the same day as the fake watermelons in Arizona, was concealed in oval-shaped pellets and baked into chocolate chip cookies that were packed in the man’s suitcases.
He remains in custody on state drug charges.