SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – For the first time, a San Diego man is sharing his horrifying story about being an alleged so-called blind mule for a drug cartel. Team 10 Investigative Reporter Jennifer Kastner discovered that there's people who cross into San Diego from Mexico who have no idea they're smuggling drugs.
“I thought I was in a nightmare. I could not believe that this was happening to me,” says the man we interviewed who tells us he was the unsuspecting victim of a drug trafficking scheme by a cartel. We’ve agreed to not use his name or show his face.
“My biggest fear is that if they were watching me then, they're probably watching me now,’ he told 10News.
10News was in a San Diego courtroom this January when his case was formally dismissed. Prosecutors dismissed the case, after charging him months earlier with bringing marijuana through the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. There was no explanation for the dismissal, but the man we interviewed believes it was due to a lack of evidence. To this day, he maintains his innocence.
“In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought that there were five huge packages of marijuana stuck to the undercarriage of my truck,” he says. He claims he was a blind mule, a person who unknowingly moved narcotics.
“I think it is without a doubt true that there are instances every year where people are coming across, bringing drugs, and they do not realize they're doing it,” says Caleb Mason, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Diego. He’s studied blind mules. They're not common, but they do exist.
“Five percent is approximately the rate that we saw going across districts,” Mason said.
Last October, a Mexican citizen who crosses the border into San Diego for work became an unsuspecting smuggler, after five pounds of drugs were found hidden under his fender.
There’s also a famous case from 2011 in which an El Paso school teacher was released from a Mexican jail, after investigators discovered she was being used as a blind drug mule. She didn't know that almost ninety pounds of pot were hidden in her trunk when she crossed the border.
The man we interviewed for this story says it was last summer when he was living in Tijuana and commuting daily to San Diego for work. After getting unfortunate news that he'd been let go at his job, he says he crossed back into Mexico to have lunch with his girlfriend and parked his truck in an open, unsecured lot. He then crossed back to go fishing, but at the Port of Entry, the K-9s alerted an officer to his truck.
He adds, “The first thing that he said to me is, ‘Are you under duress? Has anybody forced you to drive this vehicle?’”
He says he was placed in a holding cell and then taken to jail after officers removed packages with more than forty pounds of pot from under his truck that were stuck on with magnets.
“Typically, those are attached by magnets just to the undercarriage of the vehicle. sometimes we see spare tires mounted in the car in or on the car,” says Sgt. Bill Kerr with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s Border Crimes Suppression Team. “Your classic, true blind mule is typically a SENTRI pass holder, meaning they face less scrutiny when crossing the border,” he adds.
SENTRI passes expedite the clearance process for low-risk, approved travelers in the United States. The man we interviewed did not have a SENTRI pass, but says he was easy to track and follow.
“I believe that I was targeted because of my routine,” he said.
The case financially drained him. He never got his truck back, and had to pay thousands of dollars in attorney's fees. “This completely turned my life upside down,” he explains. He’s hoping his story will raise awareness for travelers to always be mindful of their vehicles’ security.