Pesticide Smuggler Sentenced to 90 Days in Custody; Ordered to Pay $10,000

Assistant U. S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson (619) 546-7976    

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – June 18, 2021

SAN DIEGO –Felix Gutierrez Valencia of Perris, California, was sentenced in federal court today to 90 days in custody for attempting to smuggle pesticides into the United States.  In addition, Gutierrez was ordered to pay a fine of $2,500 and restitution of $8,807 for the cost of disposal of the pesticides, and perform 100 hours of community service during three years of supervised release. 

In pleading guilty, Gutierrez admitted that, on April 16, 2020, he entered the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, where 48 containers of undeclared Mexican pesticides were discovered in his truck.  Gutierrez had concealed some of the containers of pesticides in cereal and cookie boxes.  The pesticides included Furadan, Monitor, Bayfolan, Biomec, Ridomil Gold, Kanemite and Rodentox.  Gutierrez later acknowledged that, after his arrest in April, he offered to pay another individual to smuggle pesticides into the United States. However, that person was also caught at the border with 37 containers of Furadan, Biomec, Biozyme and Tetrasan.

Two of the pesticides smuggled by Gutierrez contain active ingredients that are cancelled in the United States, and thus are not permitted to be imported or sold. Furadan contains the cancelled pesticide carbofuran, which is a highly toxic insecticide that affects the central nervous systems by the same mechanism as chemical warfare nerve agents. It is highly toxic to birds, fish and mammals and is classified by the EPA as Toxicity Category I, the highest category, based upon its lethal potency. Monitor contains the cancelled pesticide methamidophos, which is one of the most acutely toxic organophosphate pesticides, also related to chemical warfare nerve agents. Rodentox contains zinc phosphide, an extremely toxic rodenticide.  Ingestion of 7 drops to one teaspoons of zinc phosphide would likely kill a 150-pound person.

According to the sentencing documents, all of the chemicals smuggled by the defendant are commonly found at locations where marijuana is illegally cultivated.  Exposure to these pesticides during eradication efforts has cause law enforcement officers to be hospitalized, has polluted soils and streams, and has killed wildlife.  Cannabis users are also at risk,  In one study, the pesticide transfer rate into the blood stream of a cannabis smoker using a glass pipe was as high as 70 percent.

“Trafficking in illegal pesticides is big business, and we are aggressively prosecuting many of these smuggling cases in order to protect the public,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The toxic chemicals are extremely dangerous, with the power to poison people, wildlife, water sources and soil.  Smugglers like this defendant are attempting to sneak banned pesticides across the border as if they are illicit narcotics, and they are getting caught and going to prison. That’s how serious these offenses are.” Grossman praised Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson for her excellent work prosecuting environmental crimes, and he also commended agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.    

“There’s a reason the federal government prohibits the importation of certain types of pesticides,” said Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Diego. “Some of the chemicals may be toxic and exposure can be dangerous or fatal to both humans and wildlife. This individual not only disregarded the hazards associated with improperly handling these types of chemicals, he attempted to smuggle the chemicals into the U.S., which is a very serious crime. HSI and its partner organizations will continue to pursue, arrest, and bring to justice, anyone who tries to smuggle these highly toxic chemicals into the U.S.”

“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 sentence in this case demonstrates that individuals who intentionally violate smuggling and environmental protection laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 20cr2058-JLS                            

Felix Gutierrez Valencia                                Age: 40                                   Perris, CA

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Smuggling – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 545

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $250,000 fine

AGENCY

Homeland Security Investigations

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division

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