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07/21/2014

Smuggler who concealed cocaine inside surfboard gets 5-year prison term

Smuggler who concealed cocaine inside surfboard gets 5-year prison term
Photo courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

LOS ANGELES — A Pomona man arrested in February at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for attempting to smuggle nearly seven pounds of cocaine out of the U.S. concealed inside a hollowed out surfboard was sentenced Monday to 60 months in federal prison.

Jesse Edgardo Herrera, 31, pleaded guilty in May to one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Herrera was taken into custody Feb. 26 at LAX by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Herrera's arrest came after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers observed irregularities in the surfboard he had checked with his baggage on an outbound Qantas Airlines flight destined for Sydney, Australia.

Herrera originally claimed to CBP officers that he was traveling to Australia for vacation. When CBP removed Herrera's surfboard from its carrying case, they detected a strong smell of fresh lacquer or spray paint. A subsequent physical inspection and an x-ray of the surfboard showed several irregularities. CBP officers then used a saw to cut off the end of the surfboard, exposing four plastic packages inside that collectively contained just over three kilograms of cocaine.

"Every day, CBP Officers at LAX and around the nation carefully scrutinize travelers who are coming into the country, as well as those who are departing, looking for any indicators that those individuals may be involved with the smuggling of narcotics, currency, or other prohibited items," said Todd C. Owen, CBP director of field operations in Los Angeles. "This seizure, subsequent investigation and prosecution highlights the fine work that federal border security agencies perform each day, often behind the scenes and unbeknown to the general public."

CBP officers alerted HSI special agents who responded to the scene and placed Herrera under arrest. HSI's investigation into the broader circumstances surrounding the smuggling attempt is ongoing.

"This case shows yet again the lengths to which smugglers will go in an effort to conceal their contraband," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. "It also demonstrates that such subterfuge is frequently futile in the face of our joint enforcement efforts."

Authorities estimate the cocaine seized in connection with this smuggling attempt would have sold for more than $750,000 on the street in Australia.