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Task force agents seize $1.5 million pot shipment concealed inside donkey yard statues

FONTANA, Calif. - A marijuana smuggling scheme broken up overnight in the Inland Empire by investigators on the multi-agency Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) gives new meaning to the term "drug mule."

LA BEST investigators, aided by personnel from the Fontana and Los Angeles police departments, conducted searches and traffic stops in the communities of Sun Valley, Calif., and Fontana, Calif. The enforcement action led to the seizure of approximately 1,800 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of $1.5 million. The pot was concealed inside a shipment of some 200 cement yard statues shaped like donkeys. The donkeys stand nearly three feet high and weigh about 100 pounds each.

The probe into the smuggling scheme began after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers discovered the marijuana-laden donkeys inside a 40-foot seagoing container following its arrival at the Port of Long Beach. The container was destined for a fictitious business in Fontana.

As part of last night's enforcement action, agents took 15 suspects into custody. One of the suspects is being detained on an outstanding criminal warrant. The remainder are being held at this time on immigration violations.

"The fact drug smugglers are resorting to such unusual ruses shows that the work of the new LA BEST is having an impact," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "As we said when the task force was launched, the arrival of the BEST is the worst case scenario for criminal organizations trying to take advantage of the nation's busiest seaport."

"This drug bust, initiated by CBP and investigated by LA BEST, reinforces the necessity for constant vigilance in overseeing our borders," said CBP Los Angeles Field Operations Assistant Director Border Security Loretta Sanchez. "We will continue to maintain a strong enforcement posture against drug smuggling and as a member of LA BEST we will continue to exploit our interdiction and investigative opportunities to safeguard our communities."

The LA BEST was launched late last year to investigate a variety of maritime-related crime in the Southland, such as drug, alien, currency and weapons smuggling; trade fraud; and cargo theft. The LA BEST is made up of officers from 11 federal, state, and local agencies, including ICE; CBP; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service; the U.S. Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Federal Air Marshal Service; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; the Los Angeles Police Department; the Los Angeles Port Police; and the California Highway Patrol.