Hemet Woman Charged with Smuggling Deadly Toxin Into United States from Mexico

SAN DIEGO, CA – A federal jury has found Veronica Perez of Hemet, California, guilty of smuggling an unregistered Mexican pesticide into the United States.

After a three-day trial, the jury found that Perez concealed twenty containers of Fosfuro de Zinc (zinc phosphide) in her purse, and failed to declare them at the border when she attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico on July 11, 2019. The jury returned its verdict late yesterday.

According to the EPA, zinc phosphide is an extremely toxic rodenticide, and the ingestion of small amounts can cause death in animals and humans. In fact, consumption of a single bait zinc phosphide pellet can be lethal to a small bird or mammal. Ingestion of seven drops to one teaspoon of zinc phosphide would likely kill a 150-pound person. After it is ingested, the zinc phosphide reacts with acid in the stomach, producing phosphine gas, which blocks cells from making energy, killing the cells. Phosphine gas can also be produced in the stomach if zinc phosphide dust is inhaled and swallowed after clearing from the lungs. Phosphine gas is extremely toxic and damages the heart, brain, kidney, and liver.

“There’s a reason these toxic chemicals are restricted in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This verdict serves as a warning that violators will be prosecuted as part of our best effort to protect people and the environment from deadly pesticides.” Brewer commended prosecutors Melanie Pierson and Steve DaPonte, and federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigations Division, for their excellent work to achieve justice in this matter.

“Illegal pesticides contain very dangerous and toxic chemicals, and their use jeopardizes public safety, pollutes the environment, and puts people’s health at risk,” said Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  “These unregistered substances can be very harmful, and HSI and our partners at EPA-CID, CBP, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to working together to stop these deadly pesticides from entering the United States.”

“The pesticides involved in this case pose serious public health and environmental dangers,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in California. “The verdict in this case demonstrates that individuals who intentionally violate smuggling and environmental protection laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson from the Southern District of California and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve DaPonte of the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section.