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Special Investigation: Mexican cartel meth pushers getting more creative

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By Stella Inger. CREATED Sep 22, 2014NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers in Arizona are trying to stop methamphetamine from flooding into local communities from Mexico. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the Mexican drug cartels control 90 percent of the meth market in America.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection gave KGUN9 rare access into their daily battle at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales.

"They're very creative. It's a chess game. You have to be thinking ahead to try to figure out where are they going next," said CBP Port Director, Guadalupe Ramirez.

For years, meth making was popular in the US, but with tighter restrictions on buying pseudoephedrine in the US, the main ingredient in cold medicine, means it's now coming from Mexico. The Mexican cartels are meeting the demands.

"Right now they control probably 90 percent of the meth market in the US," said Richard Fahey, Deputy Special Agent in Charge with the Department of Homeland Security.

CBP officers say smugglers will stop at nothing to conceal the meth. They will put it in all sorts of compartments, like tires, fire walls, seats, sealing floors, gas tanks and even transmissions.

"I'm not a mechanic, but it took us 6 to 7 hours to take it apart. I can't imagine what it took them to put in and modify the gears to make it function," said CBP Chief Nathaniel Garcia.

Not only are they creative in their compartments, smugglers are now making officers' jobs harder by trying to transport meth in the form of liquid. They're hiding it in tequila bottles, plastic water bottles and toiletries. And they're doing it because there's a lot of profit.

"Tucson is a hub for meth smuggling and distribution. Nogales is the origin of the pipeline and you move up to Tucson, then Phoenix and and then the interior of the US," said Fahey.

DHS tells KGUN9 that a pound of meth in Tucson brings in profit anywhere from $3000-$4500. As it travels to Los Angeles, it goes between $4800-$10,000, Chicago $12,000 - $18,000. By the time it arrives in New York a pound of meth sells for up to $25,000.

"Our job is two fold, not just a matter of disrupting the operations coming north. We're also responsible for disrupting the operations going south," said CBP Director Ramirez, referring to the money making its way back to Mexico and into the hands of the cartels.

And that's exactly why Port Director Ramirez's officers are always trying to be one step ahead of the smugglers.

Dealing with the drug cartels is an uphill battle, but the officers tell us that the small victories are worth it.