Menifee Resident Sentenced to 70 days Custody and Ordered to pay $20,000 for Smuggling Pesticides
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – March 26, 2021
SAN DIEGO – Beatriz Santillan of Menifee, California, was sentenced to 70 days in prison today and ordered to pay $20,079 restitution, following her plea of guilty to the charge of smuggling involving illegal pesticides on March 26, 2020. The restitution order is to cover the cost of disposal of the pesticides.
In pleading guilty in July of 2020, Santillan admitted that she entered the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry driving a Toyota Camry. Santillan twice advised the primary inspector she was not bringing anything from Mexico. The inspector, however, found 56 containers of illegal Mexican pesticides in the vehicle, including three liters of Qufuran, five liters of Bayfolan, two liters of Metaldane, two liters of Biomec, one container of Ridomil Gold, 16 containers of Fosfuro de Zinc and 27 containers of Rodentox.
According to sentencing documents, a subsequent search of Santillan’s phone revealed photographs and videos of marijuana plants, both outside and in greenhouses, beginning August 10, 2019, and ending two days before her stop at the border. Phone chats between Santillan and an associate disclosed discussions about caring for marijuana plants and the use of the pesticides for growing marijuana, and included photos of pesticides and marijuana plants. The sentencing documents also noted that receipts for the purchase of pesticides in Mexico on three separate occasions, a medical marijuana prescription for an associate, and records of the purchase of items used for growing plants were found in Santillan’s car, along with records of the transfer of over $4,000 in the three months before her stop at the border.
The pesticides imported by Santillan 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 found in the Qufuran and Metaldane imported by Santillan are cancelled pesticides in the United States, and may not be legally imported, sold, or distributed in the United States. Pesticides with the active ingredients found in Biomec, Fosfuro de Zinc and Rodentox are restricted use pesticides and may be purchased and applied only by certified pesticide applicators. Santillan holds no such certificate. Moreover, the lawful importation of pesticides requires a Notice of Arrival to be provided to U.S. Customs, and Santillan provided no such Notice of Arrival for the pesticides in question.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the pesticides involved are acutely toxic. The active ingredient in Metaldane is methamidophos, which has been cancelled in the United States since 2009. Methamidophos is one of the most acutely toxic organophosphate pesticides, and is similar to a class of chemicals that were originally manufactured as chemical warfare nerve agents. Carbofuran, the active ingredient in Qufuran, is classified by the EPA as Toxicity Category I, the highest toxicity category, based upon its lethal potency from absorption by ingestion, contact with skin, and inhalation. Zinc phosphide, the active ingredient in Fosfuro de Zinc and Rodentox, is extremely toxic, and the ingestion of small amounts can cause death in animals and humans. Ingestion of 7 drops to 1 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. The use of these chemicals poses a danger to humans and wildlife that might come in contact with them, as well as cannabis users who ingest products treated with them. Moreover, these chemicals are known to have injured law enforcement officers engaged in the eradication of illegal marijuana cultivation sites in California.
"The illegal importation and use of cancelled and restricted pesticides, like the ones this defendant was smuggling into the United States, pose a serious health threat to anyone that comes into contact with them. They also threaten wildlife in the areas where they are being illegally used. The Department of Justice remains committed to working with Homeland Security Investigations and the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that those who smuggle these dangerous chemicals into the United States are held accountable under the law for their crimes," said Jean E. Williams, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.
"The highly toxic chemicals that the defendant smuggled across the border pose a significant danger to unknowing consumers, law enforcement, wildlife and the environment in California," said Acting United States Attorney Randy S. Grossman. "The illegal importation, distribution, and application of such dangerous chemicals will not be tolerated."
"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 the Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Customs and Border Protection, 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 sentence in this case demonstrates that individuals who intentionally violate smuggling and environmental protection laws will be held responsible for their crimes."
Santillan was ordered to surrender to begin serving her sentence on June 16, 2021.
DEFENDANT Case Number 20cr2178-GPC
Beatriz Santillan Age: 29 Menifee, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Smuggling – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 545
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division
Assistant U. S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson (619) 546-7976 and Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte
Updated March 26, 2021
Press Release Number: CAS21-0326-Santillan