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425 pounds of marijuana—my first seizure . . .



My first seizure—425 pounds of marijuana . . .

I made my first significant seizure early in my first year as a Customs inspector working on the international border between Texas and Mexico. The port was Progreso, Texas, the day was Saturday, the month was February and the year was 1972. The marijuana was in a pickup truck driven by a Mexican national with a tarjeta, a local border crossing card, an official Immigration document that allowed him to enter the US and travel no more than 25 miles from the border and remain in the U.S. for no more than three days.

To my question as to citizenship, he replied Mexican and displayed the tarjeta. To my question of what, if anything, he was bringing to the US he replied Nada—nothing. There was nothing visible in the front seat or floorboard and a quick glance into the bed of the truck through a side window of the camper showed nothing. And to my question of the purpose of his trip, he said a comprar cosas—to buy things—in other words, to go shopping.

I stopped asking questions and told him to park the truck and lift the hood for me. Not that I expected to find anything under the hood—I expected to find something in the roof of the camper. My quick look into the rear should have shown me metal, but I noticed that the roof of the camper was paneled, indicating possibly that the ceiling was fitted with insulation. I needed to see what kind of insulation had been installed, so the order to park and lift the hood was an attempt to allay any suspicion he might have concerning his referral for a secondary inspection.

He was driving a late model Ford pickup truck with a camper shell installed. The truck had a manual gearshift, and while he talked he kept the truck in gear and the clutch depressed with his left foot. On the surface he seemed calm and at ease, but the clutch on that Ford was apparently very stiff—he was having a hard time keeping the clutch down and disengaged, so hard that his leg was shaking from the effort and I could hear coins jingling in his pocket, and the rest is history.

He parked the truck, killed the engine, stepped out and raised the hood. A brief glance and my suspicions were confirmed—nothing there. I took the driver by the arm and told him we needed to talk inside. He went with me without protest, and I turned him over to the inspectors inside and told them that I believed he was loaded.

Subsequent inspection of the camper’s roof revealed 425 pounds of marijuana in small plastic–wrapped packages. The camper’s roof was fitted with 2x4s on edge along its length, with stiffening blocks running from side to side. The packages were placed in the spaces provided and the paneling added by screwing it to the 2x4s. This was the first of many that would be intercepted following dissemination of the method of concealment Service-wide, but seizures dropped when the smugglers learned of our findings and went to other methods.

I am convinced, and I am honest enough to admit it, that had I not heard the coins jingling in the driver’s pocket I probably would have released him without any inspection beyond the primary questions.

I learned a lot about making enforcement that day, the day of my first significant seizure. I learned that the smallest, most seemingly unimportant action of a person could be very important, and I learned that just because someone is a fellow inspector it doesn’t mean he can be trusted.

One of my fellow inspectors, an old-time Border Patrol officer that transferred to the more leisurely life of an inspector, obligingly helped me open the ceiling of the camper and extract, count and weigh its contents.

When the time came to document the enforcement action, I was ordered to share the action with the old fart—I can call him that without fear of repercussions—he is long retired and long dead. The port director apologized for the order, explaining that was how the system worked and he had no choice. Had I told the other inspector to keep his hands and his distance away from my seizure, I would have not been required to share it.

The result was that he shared equally in the citations that the Service provided in recognition of our enforcement efforts. He knew full well what he was doing and why, and capitalized on my ignorance of seizure procedures. Another factor was that Customs  wants as few inspectors involved in individual seizures as possible—should such cases go to court, the fewer inspectors involved in the seizure the better, because of the drain on personnel resources on court days.

I made many more mistakes in my 26-year career in federal enforcement, but this was the first and the only mistake I made of this nature. We live and learn by our mistakes, so I always make a determined effort to not repeat any mistake I’ve made.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2010 in bridge, bridges, camping, drivers, law enforcement

 

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Don’t knit an Afghan . . .

In a previous posting I discussed the fact that I am unable to tune out conversations between others when I am within hearing distance, and I cited several examples of benefits gained because of my affliction—making new friends, learning things I didn’t know and passing time more pleasantly while in hospital waiting rooms. I’m using this posting to explain how I acquired a hand-knitted skull cap, a cap knitted exclusively for ladies that have lost their hair because of chemotherapy—oh, and at this juncture I must make it clear that I, the appointed and anointed King of Texas, am male through and through, neither female nor unisex—I’m not a woman, lady or otherwise, even if I am prone to don a bright red knitted cap occasionally.

Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas provides chemotherapy treatments for active duty and retired military people and family members. On a recent memorable morning I left the patient waiting area, took an elevator down six floors to the basement, negotiated seemingly endless winding corridors and finally arrived at the hospital cafeteria for breakfast. The cuisine there is only so-so in quality and presentation but the prices are—well, priceless, and they almost—not quite but almost—compensate for the lack of taste in the food. If you’re ever there for a meal, please don’t mention that I panned their kitchen or I may be banned from the facility.

In the hallway leading to the patient waiting area in the chemotherapy unit, there is a nice exhibition of knitted skull caps hanging on the wall. Dozens of beautiful caps of every design and color surround a mirror that interested ladies can use to see how the selected cap will look. The caps are made by a local ladies’ knitting club and are offered free to chemotherapy patients. I must hasten to say at the outset of this posting that I have the utmost respect for the group—I love ’em all!

When I returned from breakfast several women—knitters, if you will—were gathered at the wall display, rearranging the caps and adding new ones to the exhibition. As I neared the group I heard them discussing a planned flight to Las Vegas. I stopped and lounged against the opposite wall to watch them working on the display, and thus was privy to their conversation. I did not linger there with the intent to listen to their conversation, but because of my inability to tune out the speech of others I couldn’t help hearing them talking—it’s in my nature! For a detailed explanation of my affliction, click here to read, “It’s in my nature,” the forerunner to this posting.

One of the ladies said that she detested going through the inspection line in airport terminals. She felt that the workers were rude and made unreasonable demands such as ordering passengers to remove their shoes for inspection. She said that she was wearing sandals, flats I believe was the term she used, and she had to remove them and hand them over for inspection.

And in regard to that requirement, I can’t help but speculate that a goodly number of those employed at airport check-in lines are afflicted with foot or shoe fetishes, perhaps a combination of both. It could well be that the handling of women’s footwear and the sniff test the workers perform is not an attempt to detect the odor of explosives—it may be nothing more than the harmless actions of freaks seeking relief from the ho-hum mundane pressure of the job through personal satisfaction—so to speak.

When the speaker paused for breath I stepped forward and asked her if she planned to take her knitting on the flight, and she replied in the affirmative. I told her that it would not be allowed, that they would confiscate the items and hold them to be picked up on her return. She said, “Oh, I didn’t think about the needles—I suppose they could be used as weapons, maybe by threatening to stick a needle in a person’s eye.” I told her that was not the reason and she said, “Well, then why would they confiscate them?”

I told her—are y’all ready for this?

I told her they would not allow her to board the plane with her knitting paraphernalia because they feared that she might knit an Afghan. The group erupted in laughter and offered me one of the caps. I resisted but they insisted, and I am now the proud owner of a bright red cap with a tassel on the top—it fits well and I look great wearing it, and observers probably think that I am en route to the slopes at Aspen, or Vail perhaps.

I know, I know—it’s a dumb hokey joke with racial overtones, politically incorrect and certainly not original with me, but it served its purpose. The lady bemoaning the requirement to remove her shoes forgot all about the inconvenience and with a beautiful smile thanked me for making her day. As they made their rounds through the treatment rooms offering caps to the patients, they told the joke several times for the benefit of the patients, and each time laughter resounded in the rooms and into the hallway. My inadvertent eves-dropping on their conversation thus spread and helped brighten the day for more people, and as Martha Stewart would undoubtedly say, “That’s a good thing!”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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