The mercenary transporters hired by Mexican drug cartels to distribute narcotics from staging areas along the border to U.S. cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago use an array of hidden compartments, or "traps," in vehicles to hide their drugs.
These hidden compartments for cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine were discovered during "Project Deliverance," a multi-agency operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration from its Special Operations Division center near D.C.
Patrol officers, deputies and DEA agents found narcotics in these traps during the operation—designed to disrupt drug distribution transportation. Often, they were surprised by the ingenuity traffickers demonstrated when hiding their illicit payload from law enforcement.
"In Project Deliverance, we saw no limits to the imagination of narcotic traffickers in using vehicles to smuggle drugs and money," Carl W. Pike, a DEA assistant special agent in charge, told POLICE Magazine. "We found everything from sophisticated traps utilizing magnetic locks and hidden switches to stuffing the 'natural' cavities that are created in the design of the vehicle."
All manner of vehicles were used to transport the narcotics from staging areas on the U.S. side of the border. For the larger payloads, independent truckers were hired with tractor trailers. Oftentimes, a "cover load" comprising of crates of vegetables, for example, is used to conceal the illegal payload during a cursory inspection.
Medium-size loads are typically delivered to points across the U.S. using tour or charter buses. In these cases, packages of narcotics can be hidden behind the engine compartment. One transporter hid heroin bundles inside a transmission that remained functional during the trip. Other bus cavities used include luggage compartments, fire walls adjacent to fuel tanks and spaces inside fenders.
SUVs, pickup trucks and other passenger vehicles are also commonly used to transport the smaller loads. In the operation, officers found drugs in airbag compartments, inside false gas tanks, in spaces under seats and inside tires.