Pesticides smuggled from Mexico
Pesticides smuggled from Mexico. File photo from Justice Department environmental crimes bulletin

A couple from the Coachella Valley community of Thermal pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to smuggle $2 million worth of illegal Mexican pesticides and veterinary drugs for distribution across the United States.

Otilio Rodriguez Toledo and Alicia Aispuro Hernandez acknowledged in their guilty plea that they had been smuggling the pesticides and drugs since December 2018.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Diego, bottles of pesticides and boxes of veterinary drugs were stashed in storage units at two locations in Calexico, where they would be picked up by the husband-and-wife team.  

A Times of San Diego article last year reported that Sofia Mancera Morales was the ringleader of the smuggling organization, which brought in pesticides with dangerous chemicals in concentrations not allowed in the United States.

These pesticides were used to kill mites that attack honey bees but “could cause neurological effects and reproductive effects in humans from consumption of contaminated honey,” according to Melanie Pierson, a prosecutor who is part of a federal task force effort to stop the importation of illegal chemicals.

The veterinary drugs were primarily antibiotics that exceeded EPA-recommended strengths. One was for treating metabolic disorders in dairy cows.

“The defendants’ conduct puts consumers at risk,” said Scot Adair, special agent in charge of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “The defendants in this case made millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains through the illegal sale of this unregistered pesticide.”

Chad Plantz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said the smuggled chemicals “posed a significant health and safety threat to humans, wildlife and the environment.”

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston on June 21.