Intensify probe to trace source of pot in Fusions


Since its launch in 2006, the mid-size Fusion sedan has consistently ranked among the Ford Motor Co.’s best-sellers. The Mexico-manufactured automobile has offered consumers a wide variety of slick models, ranging from the Hybrid, Titanium, S, SE. SEL, AWD and others.

But one jerry-rigged model has caught our eye and has risen to notoriety because marijuana was found deep within the spare-tire compartment of its trunk.

Earlier this month, more than 400 pounds of cannabis with a street value of more than $1 million was seized from inside Ford Fusions shipped from Mexico through the CSX rail yard in Lordstown. Local and federal investigators soon determined that 15 new Fusions had their spare tires removed and replaced with compressed packages of marijuana that resembled 32 pound half-wheels of cheese.

The smuggled booty was seized from dealerships throughout the Mahoning Valley and in Stark and Portage counties.

Now it is incumbent upon local drug investigators, agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Customs officials, Ford and CSX to mount a more aggressive and cooperative investigation aimed at locating and prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law those involved in this high-stakes drug-smuggling operation. They must do so to eliminate any possibility of the illicit drug falling into the wrong hands and to quash the black market into which it feeds.

The need for a more vigorous attack is evidenced by a growing pattern of this creative drug smuggling. After all, this month’s Lordstown pot-in-the-trunk seizures are hardly the first such instances connecting marijuana smugglers, Mexican-manufactured Fusions and American rail lines.

In August 2015, bales of marijuana were found attached to the underside of a new Ford Fusion at the Lordstown rail yard.

In 2016, a Ford dealership near Pittsburgh called Lordstown police to report a car arrived at the dealership with marijuana in the car’s spare-tire space.

Then earlier this year in March, railroad police in Dilworth, Minn., seized more than 217 pounds of marijuana packaged to resemble spare tires.

NOT RANDOM INCIDENTS

Clearly then, it would be na Øve to believe that these cases of using one particular model of American vehicles from one particular manufacturing plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, to clandestinely carry pot to lucrative American markets were random or isolated incidents.

More logically, they seem to point to organized efforts, perhaps undertaken by one of many Mexican drug cartels. Coincidentally, one of the largest such cartels is based in Hermosillo, a manufacturing center of 800,000 people in northwestern Mexico.

Some investigators have speculated the marijuana was planted after quality inspections at the Hermosillo stamping and assembly plant, and some suggest involvement of the Ford plant’s low-wage employees.

Ford, meanwhile, vehemently denies any involvement in the smuggling operation.

Kelli Felker, communications manager for Ford, said the company is taking marijuana smuggling “very seriously” and is working with investigators on an “extensive investigation.”

She added that Ford has “confirmed that this is not happening at our [Hermosillo] plant or at our internal shipping yards” but declined to provide any documented evidence.

Clearly, the Detroit Three automaker has a vested interest in carrying the investigation to a successful completion.

The longer reports mount of cannabis smuggling in Fusions continues, the longer the brand name will suffer negative publicity. And in the marketing of motor vehicles, image is everything.

What’s more, the Fusion in recent months has seen a noteworthy decline in its market share. In June 2017, 18,139 Fusions were sold, a decline of 8,111 units from June 2016. Ford can ill afford a deeper stain on that model’s name.

With so much at stake, it’s imperative to beef up inspections and security at the Hermosillo plant, all rail yards and trucking outfits carrying the product into America. At the same time, an aggressive investigation must proceed to capture those responsible.

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