UPS workers snagged in decade-long drug smuggling scheme

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A handful of United Parcel Service employees were among 11 men arrested in the past two weeks for their alleged roles in a decade-long drug smuggling scheme, multiple news outlets reported.

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More arrests are expected as the Tucson Police Department works in concert with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to continue unraveling the "sophisticated" smuggling operation, the Tucson Sentinel reported.

According to The Washington Post, four UPS employees – including two supervisors and two drivers – are among those arrested to date, and 49-year-old Mario Barcelo is believed to be the ringleader. Authorities believe Barcelo, a dispatch supervisor who had worked for the shipping giant for 20 years, obscured the origin and destination of drug shipments, creating a pipeline stretching from the southwest to the U.S. East Coast.

Among the products and proceeds seized during the stealthy two-week sting were 50,000 counterfeit THC vape pens, commercial-grade equipment used to manufacture the concentrated extracts used in the pens, cash and more than one dozen vehicles, including a Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Raptor trucks and a Range Rover, ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts-O'Keefe told the Tucson Sentinel.

Pitts-O'Keefe also told the newspaper that participants in the carefully coordinated scheme managed for years to defeat measures to "identify and intercept parcels containing contraband."

Sgt. William Kaderly with the Tucson Police Department told The Post the drug ring shipped several thousand pounds of drugs per week during peak operation, with profits soaring the farther east the shipments landed.

"Their sales pitch was that because of who Barcelo was at UPS, he could make sure your package will make it out without anyone finding it," Kaderly told The Post, adding, "He had face time with traffickers."

In addition to Barcelo, the men arrested include:
• Fernando Navarro-Figueroa, 32
• Raul Garcia Cordova, 47
• Abraham Felix-Navarro, 27
• Heriberto Martinez-Bojorquez, 24
• Thomas Mendoza, 47
• Victor Molina, 32
• Michael Castro, 34
• Jonathan Gallegos, 26
• Gary Love, 40
• Martin Siqueiros, 31

Pitts-O'Keefe confirmed to the Tucson Sentinel the men face charges for drug possession, drug possession for sale, money laundering and conspiracy. At least one of those arrested also faces weapons charges, she said.

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