HOUSTON -- A major drug bust on Highway 59 in Houston overnight Tuesday is the latest example of drug running between Houston and the border. It’s a multi-million dollar enterprise that’s forcing local law enforcement to adapt to new tactics.
From the outside, cars whipping down Highway 59 all look pretty much the same. But stop the right one, and with some careful questioning: “When you get inconsistent statements or signs of nervousness that are extreme, that’s when the investigation continues,” said Wharton County District Attorney Ross Kurtz.
That’s when officers can start a search, for stashes of drugs and money hidden away with wasted creativity.
“[We] find it underneath cabbage, or watermelon, or limes. We’ve had it hidden in fenders,” said Kurtz.
Highway 59 is something of a super highway for drugs heading north from the border towns of Mexico, and money coming back south after the deal is done. In Wharton County, investigators and prosecutors have to evolve too, to keep up with the smugglers’ constantly changing tactics.
“Every time you think there’s not another way to hide drugs, they come up with it," said Kurtz.
So Kurtz was not surprised to hear of a bust overnight on Highway 59 in Houston, where smugglers hid 60 bricks of marijuana inside the hollowed arm of an excavator. Investigators had to use blowtorches and grinders to get to the stash.
“There is so much profit to be made for the cartels to get those drugs off-loaded,” said Kurtz. “It’s like a regular business, and they spend a lot of time and money, making sure those drugs aren’t found.”
The DA’s office is filled with files of recent smuggling busts. Kurtz says his office alone has seized roughly $650,000 and 16 vehicles in the last year and a half.
Kurtz believes the success of Department of Public Safety troopers based in Pierce is steering some smugglers away from Wharton County, and those still passing through are going to even greater lengths.
“It was about 10 days ago that we had about 160 pounds of meth hidden in a secondary gas tank, which was actually chemically combined with the gasoline and they would have to separate it later,” said Kurtz.
It’s adding up to an enormous effort, on both the criminal and law enforcement sides, energy that could be put to a much better use.