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Joint operation near border nets $1.5 million fentanyl bust

San Diego County Sheriff Department busts 44 lbs of Fentanyl near the southern border. (San Diego County Sheriff Department/Released)

A joint operation between Border Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department resulted in a 44-pound seizure of fentanyl, authorities said Thursday..

Detectives with the sheriff’s Border Crime Suppression Team, along with agents, pulled over a 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday as it sped west on Interstate 905 in San Diego, authorities said.

A sheriff’s dog detected the presence of drugs, and a search of the SUV found 44 pounds of powdered fentanyl “deeply concealed” inside, sheriff’s officials said. The drugs were estimated to have a street value of more than $1.5 million.

The driver, Marilu Escamilla, 24, and her boyfriend, passenger Fernando Camargo, 36, both of Fullerton, were arrested and booked into county jail on various drug charges. They were being held in lieu of $750,000 bail each, according to jail records.

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and can be deadly in small doses. Powdered fentanyl is often pressed into pills and passed off as oxycodone or other pharmaceuticals, or cut into other illegal street drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine.

Drug trafficking organizations have turned to fentanyl because it is cheap to produce and is powerful in small amounts. It is primarily sourced from China, then shipped to Mexico and smuggled through the California-U.S. border. It is also mailed direct from China to the U.S.

The sheriff’s border team frequently works with federal law enforcement such as Border Patrol to combat transnational crime. Officials said the cooperation does not involve immigration enforcement, which is prohibited under state law.

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.