MEXICO CITY— Investigators found parts from at least eight bodies in a series of backyard pits at a house in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The Attorney General’s Office did not say how the victims died or who is believed to have buried their remains, but it did note that 3,740 pounds of marijuana were found in the house during a Jan. 25 raid. Ciudad Juarez is home to the Juarez drug cartel.
Mexican cartels frequently use “safe houses” in border cities to store drugs, house gunmen and dispose of slain rivals’ remains.
A statement from the prosecutor’s office said authorities found five complete bodies, three limbless trunks and two heads in four pits. It did not say if the heads came from bodies in the pits or if they represented two additional victims.
Investigations were continuing to determine the identity of the corpses, the statement said.
Ciudad Juarez has been plagued by drug violence as Mexico’s crackdown on its powerful cartels has stoked turf wars among traffickers that have been linked to hundreds of killings in the past two years.
Last month, federal agents found six bodies buried in a shallow grave at a house allegedly used by the Juarez cartel in the northern city of Chihuahua.
In January 2004, police unearthed a grave containing 12 bodies in a backyard in Ciudad Juarez. Authorities said the victims were cartel rivals who were strangled or suffocated.
And in other border news.
Agents seize $1.9 million hidden in SUV on border.
Customs agents found nearly $1.9 million hidden in the doors of a sport utility vehicle at an El Paso port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on Tuesday.
Agents found the cash, wrapped in bundles and hidden in the doors of a 1992 Ford Expedition, after using a density meter to inspect the vehicle Monday morning, CBP spokesman Roger Maier said.
“The driver was a little bit nervous, a little bit shaky,” Maier said. “So the agents used … a density meter. It registered higher than normal, consistent with contraband. They started looking closer at the doors and spotted, not drugs which we were expecting, but currency.”
Saul Sanchez, a 42-year-old Mexican national who was living legally in Kansas City, Kan., was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on charges of currency smuggling. His 2-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, and his wife, a legal permanent resident, were both released.
Cash in the amount of $10,000 or higher must be declared if an individual is entering or leaving the U.S.
Maier said the seizure — $1,858,085 — is among the largest ever cash seizures in El Paso. The largest was in 1997 when agents stopped a vehicle headed to Mexico and found $5,649,760.
“What we seize is generally in the five-figure range,” Maier said. “Even the six-figure seizure is rare so getting something close to $2 million is extremely significant.”
The seizure is nearly three times the amount of cash seized by El Paso agents in the last two years.
Maier said agents don’t know where the money came from or was headed, but “the assumption would be that it was the proceeds of some illegal activity.”
Travis Kuykendall, director of the West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said the size of the seizure and that it was found in a vehicle heading into the United States make Monday’s discovery highly unusual.
“The money usually goes south,” Kuykendall said, adding the large cash sums caught going south are generally drug proceeds.
Kuykendall said it’s possible that the money is from a legitimate business, given the legal complexities of declaring that much money being brought into the U.S.
Sanchez is being held without bail in El Paso County. Jail records do not show if he has hired a lawyer.