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Meth found in art frames shipped to Oakland store from Mexico

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 6:03 p.m.
 

A package delivered to an Oakland store from Mexico contained two large framed pictures of religious figures and about a kilogram of methamphetamine, according to court documents unsealed Friday in federal court.

Michael O'Neill, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said in an affidavit that the person who picked up the package on Aug. 28 admitted receiving another picture the week before.

U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Reed Eddy found probable cause during a Thursday preliminary hearing to hold Carmel Rojas-Perez, age unavailable, pending trial on a smuggling charge. Rojas-Perez waived a detention hearing and is being held without bail.

Rojas-Perez told agents he came to the country illegally in 1993 and a friend in Mexico named Angel sent the frames, according to the affidavit.

Customs officers initially intercepted the package at the FedEx hub in Memphis, O'Neill said in his affidavit. It was on its way from Toluca, Mexico, to the Las Palmas store on Atwood Street in Oakland. Discovering the white powder secreted in the picture frames, they sealed the package and gave it to Homeland Security Investigations so agents could conduct a controlled delivery.

State Trooper Joshua Giran, working undercover as a parcel delivery man, allowed the store owner to sign for the package. The owner set it on a shelf and Rojas-Perez showed up about four hours later to collect it, the affidavit said.

Agents waited until Rojas-Perez took it into a second-floor apartment before arresting him and conducting a search. The frames of the pictures were hollow and contained long, black packages of meth, the affidavit said.

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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