Student was unsuspecting drug mule, blames Ford in lawsuit

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If The Daily Caller has said it once, we’ve said it 1,000 times: Always check the trunk of your car for mysterious duffle bags full of marijuana whenever you are crossing an international border. Ricardo Magallanes did not heed this advice, and he paid a steep, terrible price.

Magallanes, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), is now suing Ford Motor Company because he was an unsuspecting drug mule, reports the El Paso Times. His lawsuit alleges that the carmaker handled keys and key codes so negligently that drug smugglers were able to break into his 2007 Ford Focus and plant 112 pounds of marijuana.

According to an FBI affidavit, four other similarly unwitting victims were also involved. All of them lived in Juárez and worked in El Paso.

The affidavit states that the marijuana was to be distributed across the country.

Four of the five cars targeted in the scheme were Fords. The fifth one was made by General Motors. The lawsuit asserts that Ford was allegedly in the practice of providing “widely available access to Ford-key cut codes” for its cars and trucks while GM was not.

FBI agents discovered that someone at a Dallas Ford dealership accessed the key codes for all four ganja-smuggling Fords.

Louis Lopez, an attorney who defended Magallanes in criminal court and is co-counsel in the civil suit, said the key codes were critical to the scheme.

“But for that, this couldn’t have worked,” he told the Times.

“It’s a quagmire for the government because every bridge case could be an innocent person,” he added. (Bridge refers to the bridge Magallanes was crossing when he was arrested.)

The incident giving rise to the plaintiff’s nightmare began on the morning of November 16, 2010. As was his routine, Magallanes attempted to enter the United States from Mexico in a Dedicated Commuter Lane, for which he had been pre-approved and for which a special pass is required.

A border patrol officer, Alfredo Castaneda, decided to search the car because Magallanes refused to greet him and did not make eye contact.

When Magallanes popped the trunk from the driver’s seat, Castaneda spotted a coupe of tightly packed duffle bags. He asked who owned them.

“What bags?” Magallanes said at first. Then he said, “My wife’s.”

When Castaneda informed Magallanes what he had seen, Magallanes spontaneously said something like, “The trunk was open when I got into my car this morning.”

Magallanes was subsequently jailed without bond and convicted by a jury. He was facing over three years in prison. Charges were only dropped in 2011 when the FBI swooped in because federal investigators had discovered a scheme by two men, Jesus Chavez and Carlos Albert Gomez, to deposit dope in cars belonging to unwitting professionals and students who lived in Juárez and commuted to El Paso.

Magallanes is suing for lost wages, mental anguish, lost earning capacity and punitive damages, notes the Times.

Ford has denied responsibility for the troubles that plagued Magallanes. The company casts blame on Chavez and Gomez as well as the El Paso locksmith who provided a key to the car belonging to Magallanes. Ford also blames an unidentified person who must have accessed a Ford key-code database.

An FBI affidavit explains how FBI said agents dispatched someone to “locksmith A” with a vehicle-identification number for a 2006 Ford Taurus. Some 18 minutes later, that individual left the locksmith with a key. It’s not clear what the cost of the key was, and if proof of ownership was required.

The affidavit quotes a “locksmith A” employee helpfully explaining that the key would only for the doors, not in the ignition.

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