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Drug and weapons seizures by Tucson BEST on the rise

Multi-agency task force targets cross border violence and crime

TUCSON, Ariz. - Significant drug and weapons seizures by the Tucson-based, multi-agency Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) are on the rise, a trend U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attributes to heightened cooperation and information sharing fostered by the investigative task force among law enforcement agencies in southern Arizona and Mexico.

Last month, for example, the Tucson BEST netted sizeable caches of illegal weapons as well as a 40-pound load of methamphetamine. Both seizures were the result of leads developed by the task force, which is made up of officers from six federal, state and local law enforcement agencies operating in southern Arizona as well as the federal police from Mexico.

The methamphetamine seizure occurred April 20, after BEST agents received information that led them to a California truck reportedly being used to smuggle narcotics. Agents followed the truck to a residence on South Snapdragon Street in southeast Tucson. As the truck sped away from the house, BEST investigators pulled it over and located two hidden compartments in the vehicle's undercarriage. Inside, investigators found almost 20 pounds of methamphetamine. Another 20 pounds of the substance was discovered in a search of the residence on Snapdragon. The BEST's investigation into this drug smuggling scheme is ongoing.

Two weeks earlier, on April 5, BEST agents investigating possible smuggling activity observed a white Ford F-150 pickup arrive at a 300-acre ranch in Sonoita, Ariz. and back-up to a large metal shed. Agents followed the truck as it left the property and traveled north on Highway 83. At that point, BEST agents coordinated with the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) to attempt a traffic stop. Upon seeing the agents, the truck accelerated and eluded law enforcement. A short time later, a DPS helicopter reached the scene and spotted the vehicle north of the location of the attempted traffic stop. BEST and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol agents responded and recovered 722 pounds of marijuana from the pickup. Subsequently, investigators executed a federal search warrant at the ranch where they located and seized 27 firearms, 2,295 rounds of ammunition, 1,318 pounds of marijuana, and a stolen all-terrain vehicle.

"These enforcement actions show how the BEST is proving to be a worst case scenario for criminal organizations attempting to smuggle dangerous contraband through southern Arizona," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona. "The success of the BESTs in combating drug-related crime and violence is the reason the Department of Homeland Security has announced plans to double the number of agents assigned to the BESTs along the southern border."

In addition to ICE, the agencies on the Tucson BEST include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Pima County Sheriff's Office, the Arizona National Guard and the Mexican Federal Police. Formed in 2006, the Tucson task force is the oldest of the three BESTs now based in Arizona. The other Arizona BESTs are located in Phoenix and Yuma.

In the last six months, the Tucson BEST has made more than 120 arrests and seized more than 10,000 pounds of marijuana; 75 pounds of cocaine; 50 pounds of methamphetamine; and 47 weapons.