Couple Pleads Guilty to Smuggling $2 Million in Pesticides and Veterinary Drugs
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
SAN DIEGO – Otilio Rodriguez Toledo and Alicia Aispuro Hernandez, husband and wife from Thermal, California, pleaded guilty in federal court today to conspiring to smuggle and distribute $2 million worth of Mexican pesticides and veterinary drugs that are not approved for use in the United States.
In pleading guilty, the defendants acknowledged that since at least December of 2018, they had been engaged in smuggling pesticides and veterinary drugs from Mexico into the United States, and then distributing them within the United States. The pesticides involved were primarily Taktic and Bovitraz, which are not registered with the EPA for use in the United States. The smuggled veterinary drugs included Tetragent Aves, Metabolase, Terramicina, Cipio Vet, Baytril Max, Tylovet, Caterrol, Penicilina, and Tylosma, which are not approved by the FDA for use in the United States.
In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted that the smuggled pesticides and veterinary drugs were brought in through the Calexico Port of Entry in Imperial County and placed in storage units near the border. The smugglers would send photographs of the products at the storage units as proof of delivery.
The defendants admitted they later picked up the products from the storage units and distributed them to others within the United States. As part of their plea agreement, the defendants agreed that the value of the smuggled goods was more than $1 million but less than $2.2 million and further agreed that the government could seek the forfeiture of up to $2.2 million in proceeds obtained from the sale of the smuggled goods.
According to experts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere, the active ingredient in the pesticides Taktic and Bovitraz is amitraz, which is toxic to bees and humans if it is released into hives and ultimately ends up in honey, honeycomb and beeswax.
Misuse of amitraz-containing products in beehives can result in exposures that could cause neurological effects and possibly reproductive effects in humans from the consumption of contaminated honey. Signs of neurotoxicity from exposure to amitraz has been documented in multiple animal species, including central nervous system depression, decrease in pulse rate, and hypothermia.
“These rules are in place to protect animals, people and the environment from harmful pesticides and drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Public safety is our top priority and we intend to enforce those laws.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigators on the case who relentlessly pursued the leaders of this smuggling organization.
“The defendants in this case smuggled illegal and hazardous chemicals into the United States for profit knowing they were banned and posed a significant health and safety threat to humans, wildlife and the environment,” said Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge, HSI San Diego. “This guilty plea highlights HSI’s steadfast commitment to working with our partners to pursue, arrest, and bring to justice anyone who threatens the well-being of our communities.
“The FDA regulates animal drugs as part of its mission to protect the public health, which includes ensuring that prescription animal drugs are lawfully distributed and dispensed pursuant to a valid prescription,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Brian G. McClune, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who attempt to evade the law.”
“The defendants’ conduct put consumers at risk,” said Scot Adair, Special Agent in Charge of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “The pesticides they attempted to distribute were smuggled into the United States from Mexico and are illegally used in beehives. The defendants in this case made millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains through the illegal sale of this unregistered pesticide.”
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston on June 21,2023 at 10 a.m. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California and Senior Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte from the Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 22cr1965-JAH
Otilio Rodriguez Toledo Age: 38 Thermal, CA
Alicia Aispuro Hernandez Age: 38 Thermal, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371
Maximum penalty: Five years in prison and $250,000 fine
Homeland Security Investigations
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigations Division
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations
California Department of Toxic Substances Control
USAO - California, Southern
Release Number: CAS23-0328-Toledo