Price of drug smuggling? 25 cents

Smugglers were passing drugs under the border at this spot. Cost to play: 25 cents

Price of drug smuggling? 25 cents

CREATED Oct 11, 2011 - UPDATED: Oct 12, 2011

Reporter:  Steve Nuñez

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - You've heard of drug cartels using primitive catapults to fling marijuana. Then there are the so-called quarterbacks tossing football-shaped bundles over the fence in Nogales, Sonora to receivers waiting to catch the marijuana on the U.S.-side.

Now, Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said U.S. Border Patrol agents recently busted smugglers using parking meters to get their drugs across the new taller and stronger border fence.

"It's unbelievable the strides these people take to get their drugs across the border," said Garino.

According to Garino, smugglers would park their vehicles along International Street in empty spaces located just feet from the border wall next to Morley pedestrian port of entry.  

The smugglers would then feed a quarter into the meter, walk away and pretend to go shopping.

But the street riddled with concrete patches tells a different story.

In the last two years, agents have uncovered 16 drug tunnels. All of them lead to parking spaces located within a one block area.  

Garino said smugglers then used a boring drill to carve a precise hole in the street's pavement 8"-10" in diameter. They would then park a vehicle with a hole in its bottom so a smuggler could load them up with marijuana literally from the ground up.

"And then after they do their transfer of drugs, they would put the concrete back as a plug with a jack underneath it so you couldn't see it," explained Garino.

Now the City of Nogales, at the advice of Homeland Security, agreed to remove all 18 parking meters and prohibit vehicle from parking within a 60-foot buffer area from the fence.

9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez asked: "What took so long for the City of Nogales to eliminate these parking meters?"

"Of course, parking meters are revenues for the city and this area is used a lot for people to shop downtown," said Garino. "But one of the things that's more important then revenue is securing the threat and not allowing the drugs to come across."

Overall, the city stands to lose about $8,500 in revenue. Plus, citation money collected from violators.

For nearby business owners, like Bruce Bracker, it's still too soon to calculate the impact of losing premium parking meters in a downtown that only has 250 spaces.

"It always hurts your business when you lose parking meters," said Bracker.

Still, Bracker said he's not fighting mad because the city should have never been allowed to have parking spaces along the fence in the first place.

Brackers, who shrugged his shoulders, said, "So we understand."

Garino said while agents busted several vehicles loaded with hundreds of pounds of marijuana there's really no telling how much drugs smugglers were able to get past them.