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Feds bust ‘sophisticated’ trucking operation smuggling drugs in fire extinguishers after two year operation

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Federal officials announced Wednesday they busted a group using trucks to bring fire extinguishers filled with illicit fentanyl and other illegal drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. The indictment comes after a two-year investigation, called Operation “Smoke Jumpers,” during which authorities seized about 680,992 fentanyl pills, 3 kilograms of fentanyl powder, 17 kilograms of heroin, and 10,418 pills containing methamphetamine.

Nine people were arrested in a sweep that started on Feb. 8 and continued through Monday. One person was already in state custody. Seven additional defendants are fugitives believed to be in Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“These defendants used a sophisticated network to smuggle immense amounts of fentanyl into our country,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “We know that every fentanyl pill can kill, but these defendants did not care about the widespread destruction they were causing.”

The Center Square reports:

The investigation focused on Carin Trucking, a San Diego-based company owned by Leyva that operated at least six semi-trucks that regularly entered the United States from Mexico to deliver suspected narcotics to the Los Angeles area, according to a warrant to search a phone seized when Carlos Espinoza was arrested last week. The drugs, including counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, were concealed in fire extinguishers initially disguised as scrap metal and later in working extinguishers, according to the search warrant.

“Investigators have observed multiple drug transactions involving truck drivers and their semi-trucks,” according to the affidavit in support of the search warrant. “The truck driver would drive into the United States from Mexico and cross the border usually carrying a load of scrap metal, and concealed inside will be a scrap metal fire extinguisher containing drugs. The truck driver would then make his way up to Los Angeles, to meet a courier, who would pick up the drug-packed fire extinguishers for further distribution.”

The 15-count indictment unsealed on February 8 charges nine defendants in drug trafficking counts and a money laundering conspiracy.

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education

Report: Denver area migrants cost $340 million to shelter, educate

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A report by the free-market Common Sense Institute found the more than 42,000 migrants who have arrived in Denver over the last year and a half have cost the region as much as $340 million. The city of Denver, local school districts, and the region’s health-care system have spent between $216 million and $340 million combined to shelter, feed, clothe, and educate the migrants, and to provide them with emergency medical care.

National Review explains the report builds off a previous report from March that conservatively found that the migrants had cost the region at least $170 million. “Costs are never localized,” said DJ Summers, the institute’s research director. “They expand outward.”

Democratic leaders are being blamed for their welcoming posture toward immigrants generally, and their sanctuary-city policies, which curtail law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration agents. Since late December 2022, at least 42,269 migrants — or “newcomers” as Denver leaders call them — have arrived in the city, adds National Review.

The Common Sense Institute report found that the migrant crisis has also hit local emergency rooms hard with extensive expenses. Since December 2022, migrants have made more than 16,000 visits to metro emergency departments. At an estimated cost of about $3,000 per visit, that has resulted in nearly $48 million in uncompensated care.

Summers said those costs are “stressing existing health care organizations,” but they also indirectly hit residents in their pocketbooks through increased insurance prices.

Metro school districts have endured the biggest financial hit — estimated between $98 million and $222 million — according to the Common Sense Institute report. The large range in costs is due to the difficulties researchers had identifying exactly how many new foreign students are tied to the migrant crisis.

The researchers found that since December 2022, 15,725 foreign students have enrolled in local schools. Of those, 6,929 have come from the five countries most closely identified with the migrant crisis — Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

On average, it costs a little over $14,000 to educate a student for a year in a Denver-area public school, but Summers said migrant students likely cost more.

“They have transportation needs that are different, they have acculturation needs that are going to be different, language assistance needs that are going to be different,” he said. “Many of them might need to get up to speed in curriculum. They might need outside tutoring.”

Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers approved $24 million in state funding to help school districts statewide plug budget holes related to the migrant students.

Summers said the updated Common Sense Institute tally is likely still missing some costs related to the ongoing migrant crisis.

“There are definitely additional costs. We just don’t have a great way to measure them just yet,” he said, noting legal fees, crime, and unreported business and nonprofit expenses.

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