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Press Release

Los Angeles Area Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Restricted Pesticides

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

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

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – February 27, 2020

SAN DIEGO – Luis Alberto Vargas pleaded guilty in federal court today, admitting that he illegally smuggled pesticides into the U.S. from Mexico.

In his plea agreement, Vargas admitted that on September 9, 2019, he entered the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry as a passenger in a black Toyota Camry.  He and the other occupants of the vehicle twice advised the primary inspector they were not bringing anything from Mexico. The primary inspector found three large suitcases in the trunk and referred the vehicle for secondary inspection.

Vargas acknowledged that the secondary inspector discovered two bottles of the Mexican pesticide Agroclor Clorpirifos Etil (1 liter each) and one 250 ml bottle of the Mexican pesticide Minartrin M Abamectina, concealed in a large suitcase in the trunk of the vehicle.  Vargas admitted that he purchased the pesticides in Culiacan, Mexico, and smuggled the pesticides into the United States.

The pesticides imported by Vargas were labeled in Spanish and did not bear any EPA registration number, as required by law for pesticides intended for use in the United States.  Pesticides with the active ingredients of those imported by Vargas are restricted use pesticides in the United States, and may be purchased and applied only by certified pesticide applicators. Vargas admitted that he holds no such certificate.  Moreover, the lawful importation of pesticides requires a Notice of Arrival to be provided to U.S. Customs pursuant to 19 CFR § 12.112.  Vargas further admitted that he provided no such Notice of Arrival for the pesticides in question.

“Laws regulating pesticides are meant to protect the public and the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “We are aggressively prosecuting violators who don’t respect these important regulations.”

 “The defendant knowingly smuggled unregistered pesticides into the country violating environmental regulations established to protect human health and the environment,” said Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in California. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that individuals who intentionally violate those laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”

“The smuggling and use of hazardous unregulated pesticide products is illegal and puts people's health, particularly young children, at risk,” said Cardell T. Morant, Acting Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Diego.  “HSI will continue to work with Customs and Border Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other partners to prosecute those who threaten the health and safety of our communities for their own personal gain.”

Sentencing for Vargas is set for June 5, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 19cr4279-DMS                                 

Luis Alberto Vargas                                        Age: 29                       Bellflower, CA


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

Maximum penalty: Twenty years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine


Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division 

Updated March 2, 2020

Press Release Number: CAS20-0227-Vargas