U.S. Border Patrol agents seized nearly 3.5 tons of marijuana after stopping a drug-smuggling caravan during the weekend near Animas in the New Mexico Bootheel.
It is the second time this year that Border Patrol agents have intercepted a multi-ton marijuana caravan in the Southern New Mexico desert.
"We are keeping a close eye on that area," Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said. "The challenge, of course, is the remoteness."
Late Saturday night, Border Patrol agents spotted five trucks with their headlights off headed north from the border on NM County Road 1, about 16 miles south of Animas, officials said.
When the caravan tried to flee, agents used tire spikes that disabled four of the trucks. Two of the trucks had been reported stolen. The fifth truck turned around and managed to escape into Mexico.
When the trucks were stopped, four men ran into the desert. Agents tracked them down and arrested them.
Agents arrested Antonio Alvarez Toscano, 33; Ricardo Garcia Delgado, 32; Jesus Alonso Escalante Delgado, 21; and Jose Domingo Jasso Topete, 34, on suspicion of drug smuggling. All four are Mexican citizens.
Officials said agents found 6,940 pounds of marijuana in the vehicles. The Border Patrol estimated the marijuana's value at $5.5 million.
Saturday's bust occurred in the same remote area as the previous multi-ton marijuana seizure earlier this year.
In January, Border Patrol agents seized more than 6 tons
of marijuana after stopping a similar caravan traveling on the same road. That case was the largest marijuana bust by Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector in more than five years.
The region where the caravans were stopped is patrolled by agents from Lordsburg, a smuggling hot spot that is part of the agency's El Paso sector, which covers all of New Mexico and the westernmost part of Texas.
Mosier said authorities are investigating to learn more about smuggling caravans in the Lordsburg region.
"There are lots of rumors flying around," Mosier said. "You really don't know what motivates cartels. We do know smugglers will try different venues and different avenues of entry into the U.S. Smugglers are not short on ingenuity."
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