Student says he was unwitting drug mule, sues Ford

A University of Texas student says he was an unsuspecting drug mule.

Ricardo Magallanes is accusing Ford of negligence, saying the company released his car codes, making it easy for criminals to plant drugs in his car.

A University of Texas-El Paso student is suing Ford Motor Co., alleging that the carmaker gave away his automobile codes, allowing smugglers to plant marijuana in his 2007 Ford Focus.

According to the El Paso Times, music student Ricardo Magallanes discovered that he had become an unwitting drug transporter in November 2010, when he was attempting to enter into the U.S. from Mexico through a dedicated commuter lane.

Related: How much are Mexico's brutal drug cartels worth?

Magallanes, who lived in Juarez, Mexico, was arrested after customs officers found 112 pounds of marijuana in his trunk as he tried to cross the Stanton Street Bridge — an international bridge connecting the border cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, across the Rio Grande, his lawyer, Louis Lopez, told MSN News.

Magallanes spent six months in jail as he awaited trial, Lopez said, and faced three years in prison after he was convicted by a jury.

Unwitting drug mule: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint station in Falfurrias, TexasAP File Photo: Eric Gay

Ricardo Magallanes was arrested after customs officers found 112 pounds of marijuana in his trunk as he tried to cross over to El Paso, Texas, from Mexico.

But charges against him were dropped when federal authorities discovered a scheme by two men to plant marijuana in the cars of people who lived in Juarez and commuted to El Paso every day.

"This group of drug smugglers were able to determine the daily routine of people who lived in Juarez. ... They would get the VIN numbers from the front window of their cars and work with a local locksmith, and within 18 minutes get the car codes and duplicate keys," Lopez said.

Then they would wait for people to get home, open up the trunk and pop the drugs in, Lopez said.

"Not everybody checks their trunk every morning — so sniffer dogs and customs officers would find the drugs at the port of entry," he said.

Now, Magallanes is suing Ford for negligence, alleging that the company released "key code information" for his vehicle to a Ford dealership without his knowledge or consent, allowing smugglers to break into his car.

He is demanding compensation for damages and lost wages, among other things.

Lopez said the smuggling organization was able to get a duplicate key from a locksmith in El Paso, who got the codes after calling up a Ford dealership.

An FBI affidavit says someone at a Dallas auto dealer accessed the codes in Ford's database, giving out more than 2,300 codes over an 18-month period.

Related: Ruthless and powerful Mexican drug lord captured

"That's what the case is about," Lopez said. "Ford giving out these codes willy-nilly; they don't verify, they don't check … so if a guy wants to put a dead body or a kilo of cocaine in your car, he can do it easily."

But Ford, in its rebuttal, blames the El Paso locksmith, the drug smugglers and the person who accessed the company's key-code database for the locksmith. Ford didn't respond to requests for comment from MSN News.

"Ford had no adequate system, computerized or otherwise, to perform an integrity check as to whether access to its key-source information database was misused," says the lawsuit, filed on July 9.

Lopez said Magallanes' case opened up his eyes as to how easy it is to manipulate the system.

"When people get arrested on the bridge for carrying narcotics, one of the first things they say is, 'It wasn't me.' … You become kind of jaded listening to it, but now every case could be an innocent person."


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