Children used as decoys during meth smuggling operations

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During a routine screening, a service dog alerted agents to the presence of contraband in the vehicle, and a search revealed 160 plastic- wrapped bundles of the drug in its rear cargo area, back bumper, center console and all four doors, according to the agency.

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SAN DIEGO — On two consecutive days this week, U.S. Border Patrol agents caught suspected drug smugglers with loads of methamphetamine concealed in vehicles in which their children were riding in the eastern San Diego County highlands, the federal agency reported Thursday.

About 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, a 32-year-old U.S. citizen drove a Nissan Murano into the Border Patrol’s Pine Valley-area checkpoint on Interstate 8 with her two children inside, according to USBP public affairs.

During a routine screening, a service dog alerted agents to the presence of contraband in the vehicle, and a search revealed 160 plastic- wrapped bundles of the drug in its rear cargo area, back bumper, center console and all four doors, according to the agency. All told, the narcotic haul weighed nearly 160 pounds, officials said.

Agents took protective custody of the juveniles, who were later turned over to relatives.

About 9 p.m. Tuesday, a 25-year-old Mexican national drove a 1999 Ford Expedition into the East County I-8 checkpoint with her 6-year-old son in the SUV with her, the Border Patrol reported.

When a drug-sniffing dog indicated something illegal was in the vehicle, agents searched it and found 65 bundles of crystal methamphetamine weighing a combined total of just under 68 pounds concealed within interior panels and a spare tire, according to the government agency.

Agents arrested the woman, placed the boy with county Child Protective Services, seized the SUV and turned the drugs over to the Sheriff’s Department.

The arrestees’ names were withheld, per Border Patrol policy.

USBP San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison described the presence of the minors inside the vehicles during the failed drug-smuggling runs as a would-be “diversion” and praised the involved agents for foiling attempts to use children “as decoys to benefit transnational criminal organizations.”

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