The family of a teenager recently arrested for allegedly smuggling a record-setting number of fentanyl pills through a U.S. port of entry claims he was an unwitting participant in the crime.
Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested 19-year-old Cristian Araujo Aguirre on Aug. 1 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego after discovering 11,490 fentanyl pills, 61 pounds of methamphetamine and 14 pounds of heroin hidden in the firewall, doors and a quarter panel of a vehicle, reported NBC Los Angeles.
Family members claim Araujo, who was the only one in the car at the time, was driving a friend’s car to pick up family members in San Diego as a favor because he had a license. He was attending school in Los Angeles but living in Tijuana, Mexico.
Officials said the fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, was pressed into counterfeit oxycodone pills stamped with the text M30. Authorities said the bust is the largest seizure of fentanyl in pill form at a U.S.-Mexico port of entry in history. (RELATED: Heroin Dealer Faces Life In Prison After Pleading Guilty To Causing 27 Opioid Overdoses, Including Nine That Proved Fatal)
“The danger in that is the person who buys these pills don’t realize they are taking fentanyl,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Araujo faces 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
The incident comes amid the sentencing of another teenager arrested at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in December for attempting to smuggle nearly 80 pounds of fentanyl into the country.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns sentenced Flavio Diego Rivera Davalos, a 20-year-old from Tijuana, to seven years and four months in federal prison Monday over the incident. The massive bust, enough to kill nearly 1 million people, represents the largest-ever seizure of fentanyl at a U.S. port of entry in history.
Opioid seizures by Customs and Border Protection agents nearly doubled from 579 pounds in 2013 to 1,135 pounds in 2017, a recent report from Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill shows.
Heroin continues to be the most common opioid coming across the border, with seizures increasing by 73 percent in 2017 to 662 pounds. Seizures of fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller, rose by 72 percent in 2017.
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