UPDATED | DEA investigates pot found in Fusions made in Mexico
By Joe Gorman
The head of the Youngstown Federal Drug Enforcement Administration says a recent marijuana-smuggling operation with ties to Warren is the first of its kind he has seen in this area.
In fact, said Bob Balzano, who runs the local DEA office, the only time he has heard of the method being deployed was in April, when a similar discovery was made in Minnesota.
The marijuana was found last week inside the wheel well for a spare tire in a new Ford Fusion that was manufactured in Sonora, Mexico, at a Ford dealership in Kent, after one of the vehicles was unloaded from a car carrier, Balzano said.
Investigators were then able to find 14 more packages of marijuana in other Fusions, which all came through a rail yard in Warren.
All together, about 14.5 per kilos per car, or 400 pounds of marijuana, was found. It has a street value between $400,000 to $1 million.
The Portage County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating, along with the DEA.
Balzano said investigators found marijuana in Fusions in Stark and Columbiana counties and as far away as Pennsylvania.
Once the marijuana was found in the Fusion in Kent, investigators searched the rail yard and found more marijuana in five Fusions there before other cars to other dealerships, a news release from the Portage County Sheriff’s Office said.
After the Fusions were built in Mexico, they were shipped over the border through Arizona, the news release said.
Balzano, however, said he does not believe the marijuana was slated to get to the dealerships.
He said he believes it was to be retrieved before the cars made it to the dealerships, but for some reason whoever was supposed to retrieve it never did.
"We're aware of the situation and are taking it very seriously," said Kelli Felker, Ford's communication manager for manufacturing & labor. "We are working with the FBI and Customs on an extensive investigation. We have confirmed that this is not happening at our plant or at our internal shipping yards."
Maj. Dale Kelly of the Portage County Sheriff’s Office also said he thinks someone was supposed to get the marijuana sooner.
“Somebody messed up somewhere,” Kelly said.
Kelly said it is not the first large shipment of drugs he has seen in the county, but it is the first time he has seen it smuggled in this way.
“This is obviously cartel related,” Kelly said. “That’s a lot of dope.”
He also said he believes the marijuana that was seized in Minnesota comes from the same smuggling operation. Both shipments were packaged the exact same way, Balzano said.
If the marijuana was meant for this area, Balzano said it would mean that someone with Mexican ties wants to compete with people here who sell domestic marijuana.
“Marijuana that comes into this area doesn’t come in this way,” Balzano said.