SAN DIEGO — A U.S. citizen who lived in Tijuana pleaded guilty Thursday to importing more than 20,000 fentanyl pills — a haul that was discovered at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and is believed to be the largest seizure of its kind along the U.S.-Mexico border, prosecutors said.
Fernando Jesus Peraza, 39, was arrested around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 8 while trying to enter the U.S. from Tijuana at the San Ysidro border crossing, prosecutors said. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer noted anomalies after passing a density reading device over his Audi TT Quattro.
Authorities uncovered four packages hidden in the passenger rear quarter panel of the car, according to the complaint. Inside were more than 20,000 pills that at first glance resembled blue oxycodone “M30s,” but tested positive for fentanyl, an extremely potent and deadly synthetic heroin.
“This is the biggest fentanyl pill seizure we’ve seen along the Southwest Border, and it’s likely a national record,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said at the time of Peraza’s arrest.
The massive seizure came just a week after agents at the same border crossing discovered nearly 11,500 fentanyl pills in a teenager’s car. That seizure was briefly considered the largest fentanyl haul discovered along the U.S.-Mexico border until it was eclipsed by Peraza’s load.
At the time of his arrest, Peraza worked for a trash-collection service in San Diego County, prosecutors said. He told investigators that he smuggled the drugs because his family had been threatened, and that he was to be paid $1,000 for the job.
As part of his plea in the case, Peraza admitted to smuggling roughly 20,000 fentanyl pills; he also conceded that he was aware that quantities of the powerful and often deadly narcotic — or some other controlled substance — were hidden in his Audi.
Braverman, the U.S. attorney, said counterfeit pills that look like other drugs “are especially dangerous because users often don't know they are ingesting fentanyl.”
Peraza faces 10 years to life in federal prison when he’s sentenced next year by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
City News Service contributed to this report.