DOJ Sues Union Pacific Over Drug Stashes on Trains

Suits part of ongoing dispute over whether carrier is responsible for smuggling.

ByABC News
March 18, 2009, 9:51 PM

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2009— -- The Justice Department has filed a pair of lawsuits against Union Pacific railroad, claiming it owes the government more than $37 million for allowing shipments of drugs into the United States on rail cars the company had manifested as being empty.

The two lawsuits filed Wednesday in Texas and in California allege that narcotics came into the United States and were found by Customs and Border Protection inspectors on trains at rail yards in Calexico, Calif., and Brownsville, Texas, on more than 37 occasions.

The suits pose a difficult aspect of cross border trade along the U.S.-Mexican border as scrutiny over increasing violence among the drug cartels gains more attention.

Last year, Union Pacific sued the Department of Homeland Security over whether the company should be held responsible to pay fines on trains that were not in its control until they arrived at the U.S. side of the border.

The suits filed Wednesday against the largest rail transport company in North America allege that on numerous occasions between 2001 and October 2006, drugs, including cocaine and marijuana were trafficked into the United States on Union Pacific railcars.

According to the lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in Texas, Union Pacific had noted on train manifests that rail cars were empty; yet, upon inspection by Customs and Border Protection agents, significant quantities of cocaine were discovered.

"Contrary to Union Pacific's representations within the manifest that the rail cars were empty, during routine inspection CBP found a total of 99 packages containing 117 kilograms of cocaine within a false wall on the bottom side of the rail car," the suit said.

In the California case, the suit alleges that in 37 instances, Customs inspectors found a total of more than two tons of marijuana.

"During the course of these 37 routine inspections, CBP found unmanifested marijuana in excess of 4,200 pounds on Union Pacific rail cars north-bound from Mexico for travel throughout the United States," the suit said.

The suits don't allege any criminal behavior by the company or its Mexican rail partner Ferromex, but seek the $37 million in penalties from the corporation.