Buying vehicles at government auctions can come with obvious perils that range from past damage to poor maintenance to wear and tear. However, the Duarte family appears to have discovered another peril when they unwittingly smuggled drugs from the U.S. to Mexico. Sergio Torres Duarte, 18, and his 19-year-old friend Julio Cesar Moreno were arrested after being stopped on their way to a soccer match near the resort city of Mazatlan and police found 2.2 pounds of cocaine beneath the dashboard of their blue 2004 Toyota Sienna. While we do not see many cases of people smuggling drugs from the United States to Mexico, the teens were arrested despite their pleas of innocence. Torres Duarte’s father, also named Sergio Torres, did some research and found that the van was seized in a drug raid and police found drugs, but apparently missed some before sending the vehicle for auction. Nevertheless, the boys remain in a Mexican jail.
Torres bought the van for $3,900 through a friend at a Customs and Border Protection auction in February 2012 in McAllen, Texas. Customs agents had found five bundles of cocaine during an inspection at the international bridge in Pharr, Texas, in October 2011. Notably, every brick of the drug had the word “Good” written with a black marker. That is exactly the appearance of the drugs found under the dashboard of the van by the Mexican police.
To their credit, the U.S. government has admitted the likely error on their part and written a letter to the Mexican police that “Torres Duarte could have had the cocaine without knowing when he was arrested driving the car in Mexico.”
As the article below indicates, this is not the first such auction car that resulted in criminal charges for the purchaser from the auction. In one case, a person was given a five-year sentence in Mexico for drugs in such a vehicle before it was acknowledged as a mistake.
What is truly maddening is that the kids remain in jail despite the letter from the U.S. They have missed their graduations from high school and have been left in the notorious Mexican prison population for seven months. Rather than seek to dismiss the charges, Mexican prosecutors are asking for more time to present their cases against the boys.
Should the boys be able to sue the United States government? After all, the government sold them a van that was loaded with narcotics. The government will argue that it did a reasonable inspection and had every interest in finding the cocaine. Moreover, such sales are closed on an “as is” basis which apparently includes such problems as worn brake pads, bad window wipers, and occasional hidden troves of illegal drugs.
Source: Washington Post