El Paso agents seize over 60 pounds of heroin from vehicle’s ‘secret compartment’

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors have seized 60.8 pounds of heroin found in a vehicle’s false compartment, a record single-seizure amount for the El Paso-area border crossings. Inspectors at the Bridge of the Americas found the heroin Thursday afternoon after noticing signs of a hidden compartment in a trailerless international tractor, said customs spokesman Roger Maier. Inspectors removed a false rear wall in the cab’s sleeper area, revealing a compartment containing 25 heroin-filled bundles. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents arrested the truck’s driver, Silvestre Esquivel Salazar, 35, of Juarez, Mexico. He was charged on Friday with importation of a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance at a preliminary hearing before U.S. Magistrate Richard Mesa, Maier said. He is being held without bond until his detention hearing next week. The seizure, worth nearly $1 million on El Paso’s streets, surpassed a 38-pound heroin seizure made in the 1980’s, Maier said. It almost equals the total heroin seized at the El Paso port during the past four years combined. From 1999 to 2002, inspectors at the El Paso port seized 62 pounds of heroin in 36 seizures. The El Paso port consists of five border crossings, including two in New Mexico. Esquivel Salazar was recruited to drive the truck across the border by responding to a classified advertisement in a Juarez newspaper. “(The drug dealer) met him (Esquivel Salazar) on the street and hired him on the spot,” Maier said. “That should have been a dead giveaway.” Legitimate recruitment would be in an office and would include paperwork, drug and alcohol tests and other formal procedures, Maier said.