Pesticide Smuggling Ringleader Sentenced to 8 Months in Prison
Thursday, June 9, 2022
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California
For Further Information, Contact:
Assistant U. S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson (619) 546-7976
SAN DIEGO – Sofia Mancera Morales, the ringleader of a pesticide smuggling organization, was sentenced to eight months in custody in federal court yesterday, having previously entered a guilty plea in which she acknowledged obtaining illegal pesticides in Mexico and delivering them to others to smuggle into the United States. When handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge John Houston also ordered Morales to pay $7497 in restitution for the cost of disposal of the illegal pesticides.
According to sentencing documents, Morales recruited individuals on Facebook, offering to pay $40-$150 for each box of six 1-liter bottles delivered to the United States. Morales directed her recruits to deliver the pesticides to a self-storage facility near the border in Calexico, after which they were required to send her photographs of the pesticides in the storage unit as proof of delivery prior to payment. Morales paid recruits to lease self-storage units in their own names and instructed them to provide her with the keys. Recruits caught at the border with pesticides reported that they had seen items delivered by others in their self-storage units, including pesticides, veterinary medications and alcohol. One recruit delivered almost 1000 bottles of pesticides in a one-month period, while others advised that they had delivered pesticides 2-5 times per week.
The pesticides involved were primarily Bovitraz and Taktic, which contain the active ingredient amitraz in a concentrated form (12.5%) that renders it a cancelled and unregistered pesticide. Amitraz is an acaricide that is registered in the United States. to control varroa mites in honeybee colonies at a much lower concentration (3.33%) than the smuggled product. At a permissible concentration it is also registered for use in dog flea collars. In addition to posing risks to the bee population, misuse of amitraz-containing products in beehives can result in exposures that could cause neurological effects and reproductive effects in humans from consumption of contaminated honey. Animal toxicity studies indicate that amitraz is slightly toxic by the oral and inhalation routes and moderately toxic through the skin. Reproductive effects seen in animal studies include a decline in male fertility and a reduction in live births. Moreover, signs of neurotoxicity from exposure to amitraz were seen in multiple animal species, including central nervous system depression, decrease in pulse rate, and hypothermia, and based on human studies, humans appear to be more sensitive to amitraz than
animals. Amitraz is also classified as a Group C possible human carcinogen based on rodent studies suggesting that long-term exposure could result in cancer.
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