Southern California -- this just in

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Drug donkeys, puppies and bears, oh my!

February 5, 2009 |  1:33 pm


Surfboard200 By the standards of drug smuggling, the discovery of 1,800 pounds of marijuana baked into hollow, ornamental concrete donkey statues was an unusual find, authorities said Thursday.

But U.S. drug enforcement and customs officials said that in the past decade they have seen drug cartels, smugglers and "drug mules" going to greater -- and more enterprising -- efforts to conceal the illicit products being brought into the United States.

"Drug traffickers have always been creative," said Sarah Pullen, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles. "But stronger enforcement along our borders has forced the drug traffickers to become even more creative in the methods used to conceal their drugs."

Besides burros, drugs have been stashed in hollowed-out logs, tin fruit cups, boxes of Legos, within a surfboard (found abandoned on the beach), drums of frozen raspberries and even secreted into truck tires.

Then there are the strangest cases, those that leave even the most seasoned law enforcement authorities shaking their heads.

In 2003, smugglers along the U.S.-Canadian border were busted after trying to hide 166 pounds of marijuana in a trailer carrying performing bears. Another group along the U.S.-Mexico border attempted to disguise an 800-pound load of pot in a port-o-potty.

In a particularly gruesome case in 2006, Colombian drug traffickers were caught after surgically implanting liquid heroin into the underbellies of half a dozen Labrador retriever puppies.

Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the Immigration and Custom Enforcement's investigations office in Los Angeles, said agents in recent months have been seeing more instances in which objects are manufactured expressly to serve as a cover for illicit drugs.

He said many of those objects are being shipped into Los Angeles ports.

"It's been the greatest increase [in such smuggling] since I got here three years ago," Schoch said of the trend. But he said agents are getting wise to the ruses.

"We are hitting them and we are finding more of this stuff," Schoch said.

--Andrew Blankstein

Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Border Patrol