A U.S. teenager who was arrested with more than 11,000 fentanyl pills hidden inside a car was asked to drive the car by a friend who walked across the U.S.-Mexico border, his family told Telemundo 20.
Cristian Araujo Aguirre, 19, was arrested Aug. 1 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, south of San Diego and entered a not guilty plea to charges of smuggling illegal drugs.
Araujo was the only person inside the car as it crossed into the U.S.
Outside of the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego, the defendant's aunt said her nephew was with a friend who asked him to drive a car to pick up some family members because her nephew had a license.
Inside the friend's car, U.S. Custom and Border Protection officers say they found 11,490 fentanyl pills, 61 pounds of methamphetamine and 14 pounds of heroin.
The heroin was hidden in the firewall and the methamphetamine packages were in the doors and a quarter panel, officers said.
Two bags and a box of pills found in a hidden storage compartment were designed to look like oxycodone, complete with the M30 marking on the pills. However, officers say the pills tested positive for fentanyl.
Mexican traffickers who used to move powdered fentanyl through the ports of entry are now moving the illegal drug as counterfeit oxycontin, according to one federal prosecutor.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful and deadly than morphine, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.
"The danger in that is the person who buys these pills don't realize they are taking fentanyl," said Assistant U. S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson.
She's been monitoring recent seizures of fentanyl from Mexico into the U.S. They have not seen one as big as the one involving Araujo.
The teenager was held without bail for now with his attorney given an option to return to request bail be set at a later date.
He appeared clean-shaven and wearing an olive-colored jumpsuit at Tuesday's hearing.
Araujo was living in Tijuana but attended school in the Los Angeles area, Hobson said.
His aunt told Telemundo 20 the defendant used to work at a hot dog stand.
If convicted, Araujo could spend a decade in prison and face $1 million fine.