Besides the rising huge numbers of illegal immigrant minors turning up in Arizona, authorities in Pinal County have to face another problem: "scouts" for drug cartels.
These are adult illegals who live in the mountains for as long as a month and spot authorities for drug couriers, Sheriff Paul Babeu told Newsmax. His deputies arrested eight "lookouts" in February and March in a sting operation that has been going for several months.
Three were convicted and sentenced to prison on felony drug-related conspiracy charges, reports the local news website CopaMonitor.com
. Four others remained in custody pending trial. Another pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal syndicate and received supervised probation.
The sting involved U.S. Border Patrol agents and a SWAT team from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
"They have binoculars looking for my deputies to see if the coast is clear," Babeu said. "If the coast is clear, they tell the cartels to bring up the drugs further. They pass them to the next mountaintop, where another scout gives them direct line of sight. They can see for 10 miles."
The scouts also have food, water — and other such equipment as encrypted radios, cell phones, and solar panels for recharging batteries. They're generally not armed, though one of the eight arrested was carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.
"It's almost like I'm talking about war-torn Afghanistan," said Babeu, who served in Iraq as part of the Army National Guard. "Where's the president's outrage or sense of duty to protect our country and secure our border here?"
According to the Department of Homeland Security, as many as 100 scouts are in the mountains of Pinal County alone, Babeu said. The county, between Tucson and Phoenix, is about 70 miles north of the U.S. Border with Mexico.
Two major interstates, I-8 and I-10, cross Babeu's county.
"They're passing through my county on their way to their destination, metro Phoenix," he said. "It's their platform for smuggling drugs and people across the country.
"We are, in the country, the No. 1 pass-through county for drug smuggling."
Babeu said authorities began the sting after a deputy stopped an illegal from Mexico on Feb. 20 on a routine traffic violation. The 22-year-old man was on his cell phone.
"He hangs up phone and tells the deputy that 'they're watching us from the mountains now,' " Babeu said.
After he was arrested, deputies found 600 pounds of food, water and other supplies — "carefully organized" in large trash bags — "to distribute to cartel scouts to resupply them as they did their job on the mountaintop."
The driver, who entered the guilty plea, was paid $4,000, the sheriff said.
Such activity has led federal authorities to post warnings to Americans traveling through the county, Babeu said.
"Instead of the president putting up signs warning American citizens that it's not safe on American soil — as laughable as this sounds — why don't we write them in Spanish and face them towards Mexico, warning the cartels not to come in here?"
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