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Nogales Illegal Drug Program marks milestone

NOGALES, Ariz. - A Mexican man caught by U.S. federal law enforcement officers attempting to smuggle heroin into the United States marks the 25th case referred to the government of Mexico for prosecution since the start of the Illegal Drug Program in Nogales, Ariz.

Marco Antonio Barraza-Garcia, 36, of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, was turned over to the Attorney General's Office of the Republic of Mexico (PGR) yesterday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Illegal Drug Program, an agreement involving PGR, ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that enables PGR to prosecute, under Mexican law, drug smuggling cases initiated in the United States.

"U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies are continuing to work together to ensure that there are consequences for criminal behavior," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona. "Under this agreement, criminals who seek to escape responsibility for their actions are now finding prosecutors on both sides of the border who are eager to bring them to justice."

"These prosecutions mark an unprecedented advancement in southwest border security, and a game-changer for how drug traffickers do business," said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. "We are providing training, assistance and advice at the request of the Mexican Government on how to prosecute their own people, under their own laws, in their own country for crimes impacting both the United States and the Republic of Mexico. This initiative is leading to drug prosecutions before traffickers ever enter our country."

CBP officers assigned to the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales discovered nearly 15 pounds of heroin in a Jeep Cherokee driven by Barraza. The heroin, concealed in the vehicle's rear bumper, was found after an officer noted Gonzalez's inconsistent responses to questions and directed him to a secondary inspection station for a more thorough examination.

"It's important that word of the Illegal Drug Program gets out there, with the message that both countries have intended consequences in place, to deal with drug smuggling along both sides of the International border," said Nogales Port Director Guadalupe Ramirez.

ICE agents responded to the scene and initiated a criminal investigation into the smuggling attempt. After consulting with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson, ICE agents contacted PGR to inform Mexican prosecutors of the case. PGR attorneys examined the evidence and accepted prosecution. ICE and CBP released Barraza, his personal effects and core samples of the heroin to PGR.

PGR's acceptance of the case marks the 25th such prosecution referral since U.S. and Mexican officials entered into the agreement in September, 2009. Four Mexican citizens have already been convicted in prior cases and have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison.