Openness, not secrecy, aid in public’s help solving crimes

A plan hatched about two years ago by drug investigators to keep quiet a Mexican marijuana smuggling operation involving automobiles built in that country and imported to Trumbull County was apparently supposed to give officers time to solve the crime.

Now, two years later, more than $1 million in marijuana showed up again in Lordstown in another Mexican-manufactured car, and this time the local find was made public.

Lordstown police confirmed that more than 50 pounds of marijuana was found in August 2015 here, in a Ford vehicle tracked back to a manufacturing plant in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.

Investigators, at the time, chose to remain mum on that find, presumably so their investigation would not be hindered by pesky media reports.

Then this month, more than 400 pounds of marijuana was found in 15 cars on July 14 before they were shipped to dealerships in Pennsylvania, as well as Portage, Stark and Columbiana counties.

That discovery came after service department employees at a Portage County auto dealership discovered a suspicious package in the spare tire well in the trunk of a new Ford Fusion.

The car had been shipped by train from the manufacturing plant, also in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, crossing the Mexican border into Arizona, then northeast to Ohio, and finally being dropped off at a rail yard in Lordstown.

It’s unreasonable to think these were the only two instances of Mexican-made cars serving as a conduit for drug smuggling into the United States via Lordstown. Still we have no way of knowing just how many cars came into this country carrying the illegal contraband, how much of it was actually distributed to its intended recipient or how much was discovered, unreported and stolen, triggering possible deadly reaction from Mexican drug cartel.

We do know, in fact, these incidents are far from unique because in March, police in Dilworth, Minn., found narcotics inside the spare tire wheel wells of seven new cars in an auto yard in that city. Then, in May, marijuana again was found in a shipment of Ford Fusions traveling by rail from Mexico and headed toward Minnesota. Those drugs were intercepted in Nogales, Ariz., the Associated Press reported at that time. A truck driver in a Minnesota rail yard had discovered the pot in two vehicles, which prompted a search of the other 13 in Arizona.

The Associated Press also reported that at the Arizona-Sonora border in May 2015, the Mexican military found 430 pounds of marijuana in the spare tire spaces of 14 new cars inside a rail car in Nogales.

This is a serious problem that must be stopped. Intentionally keeping the public in the dark helps no one and serves as an excellent example of why federal and state laws dictate that police reports and activity should be open to the public.

The public should have been made aware of the first Lordstown discovery when it happened in 2015. Car dealers, truck drivers and new car buyers especially should have been made aware so they could have been keeping their eyes open for anything suspicious like missing spare tires or traces of the drugs left behind.

The plan to keep the 2015 discovery secret was ill-advised and has only aided in allowing this illegal operation to continue and prosper without even a hint of suspicion.