The Arizona District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (District) announced Wednesday the efforts of a multi-agency collaboration under Operations Blue Lotus and Four Horsemen that resulted in “more than a ton of fentanyl” being confiscated along Arizona’s border between March 6th and May 8th.

“Thanks to the efforts of our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, we prevented substantial amounts of fentanyl and other drugs from reaching Arizona neighborhoods,” said United States Attorney Gary Restaino.

In total, the district shared nine cases during these two months that have been federally referred for prosecution. Most of these cases involve the driver of a vehicle being kept from entering the U.S. after canine units picked up the scent of narcotics. The car was then taken for further inspections, where x-ray technology revealed contraband concealed within the vehicle, hidden within seats or trap doors. The largest bust came from Kevin Rodriguez-Ballesteros, who was attempting to enter the country through Nogales. X-raying his Ford Lobo revealed 236 packages of fentanyl, totaling in 188.56 kilograms of pills. Across these nine cases, officials confiscated 606.13 kilograms of fentanyl.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), two to three milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal.

Maricopa County deputy attorney Jeff Beaver said that the average fentanyl pill weighs one-tenth of a gram. Using this metric, the ton of fentanyl (about 907 kilograms) would consist of roughly 9,071,850 pills. The DEA recently noted that its laboratories found that 60 percent of illicit fentanyl pills tested in 2022 contained lethal dose of the drug, meaning the haul could kill up to 5.4 million people – more than the entire populations of Nevada and New Mexico.

The agencies involved were Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Customs and Border Protections (CBP), the Office of Field Operations (OFO) Tucson Field Office, and Border Patrol’s Tucson and Yuma Sectors.

“Collaborative efforts like these are critical to protecting towns and cities across the country,” said Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief John Modlin. “Border security is national security, and I am immensely proud of the men and women who performed these operations to keep drugs like fentanyl from reaching our communities.”

Investigators also found large amounts of methamphetamine, illegal firearms, and ammunition.

Operation Blue Lotus first began in March and resulted in 900 pounds of fentanyl being confiscated across the southern border during the first week. The multi-agency operation is an investment in additional personnel, technology, and other resources like canine units on the border to specifically target fentanyl.

At the same time, Operation Four Housemen is a complementary effort by Border Patrol, also aimed at cracking down on drug smuggling.

“The success of the Four Horsemen operation was due to the collaborative efforts and teamwork of multiple agencies. I am especially proud of the Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents who worked tirelessly during this operation to take deadly drugs off our streets and out of the communities we proudly serve,” said Chief Patrol Agent Yuma Sector Patricia McGurk-Daniel.

In Arizona, the Department of Health Services reports 405 confirmed opioid-related deaths thus far in 2023.

Arizona is also not the only state to see an uptake in fentanyl busts. In California, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that over 4,700 pounds of fentanyl have been confiscated in the last two months.

Meanwhile, a collaboration between Mexico and U.S. law enforcement led to the arrest of Michel Bacasegua-Barriga, a prolific firearms trafficker in Sonora. Four U.S.-based individuals tied to the operation were also arrested, and illicit guns and ammunition were confiscated.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].