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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Finally! Feds Step Up, ATF Steps Up and Gets Real, follows Baja Safari, warning Mexico travel. Fallout




UPDATE April 29, 2009

"The Mexican government said Wednesday it will step up inspections of vehicles going south through land borders, including those in San Diego County, in an effort to stem the flow of illegal guns, drugs and money.

The changes are part of an effort to confront the drug violence that has plagued Mexico in recent years and has led to the deaths of thousands of people in that country.

But the plan could intensify traffic problems on San Diego freeways leading to the border.

Mexican officials said Wednesday that the ports of entry in Tijuana and Otay Mesa, along with all others along its northern and southern borders, are outdated and will be redesigned. The upgrades will include license plate readers, electronic scanners and weight scales, officials said.

The system in Tijuana relies on infrequent, random inspections and uses no modern equipment, such as cameras or scanners.

"Along the border, there are few options for us to conduct good analysis of the risk" that vehicles pose, said Carlos Ramirez Escoto, the head of the Mexican customs administration in Tijuana. The goal is "to reverse that situation."

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-El Cajon, said through a spokesman that he welcomed Mexico's moves to increase security.

"It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s still not enough," said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper. "Until we take the necessary steps to secure the border once and for all, regardless of what steps Mexico takes in the near future, drugs and weapons smuggling will remain a serious problem."

The Mexican officials' announcement at a press conference in San Diego prompted questions from reporters about the possibility of increased traffic problems on San Diego freeways, such as Interstates 5 and 805 leading to the Mexican port of entry.

Ramirez said the new port would be able to handle up to 3,300 vehicles per hour. That means that only peak hours, around the evening rush hour, would cause delays, he said.

Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said the new inspections would create a "parking lot" on the southbound freeways. He said they also would harm cross-border commerce, which already has been damaged by long border waits, the struggling economy and the drug violence.

"I'm sure it (the plan) looks good on paper in Mexico City," Wells said. "It's unfortunate."

William Figge, a deputy district director with the California Department of Transportation, said the agency has not analyzed how the new security measures would affect San Diego traffic. He said the agency would study the situation in the coming weeks.

Mexican officials, including Remedios Gomez Arnau, the Mexican consul general in San Diego, said construction on the new ports has been completed in some areas, such as Ciudad Juarez, south of El Paso, Texas.

Construction on the Tijuana ports is scheduled to begin in late May. The new systems are expected to begin operating in late July, officials said.

Mexican ports of entry rely largely on random inspections. A traffic light glows red or green when a vehicle crosses. Green means no secondary inspection. Red means vehicles must pull to the side to be inspected by Mexican customs agents.

The new system will be based on information collected by the instruments, rather than random inspections, Ramirez said. The license plate reader would be able to identify vehicles sought by Mexican law enforcement agencies, and eventually the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he said.

The scanners and weight scales would be able to identify whether a vehicle is heavier than others of similar make and model, which would suggest that it carries hidden cargo or contraband, Ramirez said.

U.S. officials announced earlier this month that they also would step up inspections of southbound traffic.

San Diego County will get more agents, money and machines to help keep the recent drug violence in Mexico from spilling over into the United States, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a visit to San Diego this month."



UPDATE April 8, 2009

Washington, DC - The United States depends on a secure Southwest border in order to ensure the safety of its citizens and those of Mexico, facilitate legal trade and transit, support lawful immigration and prevent illegal smuggling of guns, drugs, money, and people.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to meet recent increases of cartel violence in Mexico with strong action and solidified coordination with federal, state, local, tribal and Mexican authorities.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced at the White House last month a major set of Southwest border initiatives designed to support Mexico’s campaign against violent drug cartels by limiting the flow of firearms and cash from the United States to Mexico. These initiatives bring more personnel to the Southwest border and place additional technology at strategic locations in order to crack down on the illegal activities that fuel the drug war in Mexico.

DHS has formalized the following operational enhancement plan, building from last month’s announcement, which lays out specific information about how each initiative will be implemented. The initiatives will be budget-neutral to the Department, funded by realigning from less urgent activities, tapping available fund balances, and, in some cases, reprogramming to deploy resources where they are currently needed the most.

DHS and the Southwest Border

  1. Guard against violent crime spillover into the United States
  2. Support Mexico's crackdown campaign against drug cartels in Mexico
  3. Reduce movement of contraband in both directions across the border

The exact placement of these increased resources will be determined by shared intelligence and coordinated with all relevant stakeholders: federal, state, local, tribal and international. Specific deployment location information is law enforcement sensitive and is not detailed below to protect operational planning. Furthermore, resources will be supplemented or moved based on continual changes in intelligence information and operational needs. Finally, these deployments parallel the Mexican government’s efforts to combat drug trafficking and associated criminal activity. As an example, Mexican officers are embedded in the DHS Border Enforcement Task Forces that are being augmented by this initiative.

Doubling Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Staffing

  • DHS will double the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents assigned to BESTs - teams that bring together federal, state, local and Mexican authorities in an effort to increase cross-border crime investigations, arrests and prosecutions at strategic locations along the Southwest border.
  • Doubling assignments of ICE special agents to BESTs from 95 to 190 will help to facilitate seamless cross-border enforcement actions. The 95 additional ICE investigators will augment BEST task forces at the following locations: San Ysidro and Imperial Valley, Calif.; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Deming and Las Cruces, N.M.; and El Paso, Laredo, and Rio Grande Valley, Texas. In addition, to further BEST efforts in Mexico, the Department will assign an additional four agents to the Mexico City Attaché to help coordinate BEST investigations.
  • BEST details have already begun and the additional personnel are currently in place.
  • Cost: $5.7 million

Tripling DHS Intel Analysts on the SWB

  • DHS will triple the number of intelligence analysts working at the Southwest border, providing a greater capability to develop pre-operational intelligence reports, strategic intelligence products and post-operational impact assessments - to ensure DHS resources have the maximum impact possible to protect public safety.
  • Thirteen U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement analysts are currently assigned to Southwest-border operations. Eight are assigned to BESTs and five are assigned to the Border Violence Intelligence Center (BVIC) in El Paso, Texas.
  • ICE will detail 26 additional analysts to the Southwest border—16 will be assigned to BESTs in Imperial Valley, Calif.; Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma, Ariz.; and El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley, Texas; five will go to the BVIC and five more to ICE Attaché offices in Hermosillo, Juarez, Mexico City, Monterrey, and Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Intelligence analyst details have already begun and the additional personnel are currently in place.
  • Cost: $3.3 million

Increasing ICE Attaché Personnel in Mexico by 50 percent

  • DHS will increase ICE Attaché personnel in Mexico by 50 percent. This program supports the Mexican government, as well as domestic ICE offices, by pursuing investigations inside Mexico involving money laundering, narcotics or human trafficking, and weapons smuggling.
  • Twenty-four ICE Attaché personnel are currently assigned in Mexico. ICE will detail an additional twelve Office of International Affairs personnel to Attaché offices in Hermosillo, Juarez, Mexico City, Monterrey, and Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Cost: $650,000

Doubling Violent Criminal Alien Sections Assignments

  • DHS will double the number of ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) personnel assigned to Violent Criminal Alien Sections along the Southwest border. These sections work to expedite identification, processing for removal and prosecution of recidivist criminal aliens.
  • Due to the large volume of cases of repeat offenders, namely criminal aliens, doubling Violent Criminal Alien Sections manpower will allow DHS to expand its ability to identify perpetrators, develop casework and prosecute these violators.
  • Fifty DRO officers are currently assigned along the Southwest border; ICE will detail an additional 50 officers to support ICE and CBP operations in San Diego, Calif.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston, Texas.
  • Cost: $2.3 million

Quadrupling the Number of Border Liaison Officers (BLOs)

  • DHS will quadruple the number of ICE Border Liaison Officers (BLOs) assigned along the Southwest border. These men and women work to identify and combat cross-border criminal organizations with a focus on coordination between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities.
  • Ten BLOs are currently deployed along the SWB: five are assigned in San Diego, Calif., and five in San Antonio, Texas. ICE will increase the number of BLOs by designating 30 additional special agents already deployed to the Southwest border to serve in this capacity—resulting in a total of 40 BLOs operating at the border. The additional assignments will be in San Diego, Calif.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and El Paso and Laredo, Texas.
  • No cost - existing positions are already in place.

Bolstering Secure Communities Biometric Identification Deployment

  • The Secure Communities program uses biometric identification technology to share information between law enforcement agencies in order to focus resources on assisting communities in removal of high-risk criminal aliens.
  • Currently, 23 counties in the Southwest Border States of Arizona and Texas use the Secure Communities biometric identification technology. Secure Communities plans to make this capability available to an additional 26 SWB counties in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas within 90 days.
  • ICE will also activate Secure Communities biometric identification technology in Los Angeles County, Calif., Ventura County, Calif., and San Diego County, Calif.. San Diego County is expected to be activated in early May.
  • Cost: $95 million

Implementing 100% Southbound Rail Screening

  • Using non-intrusive inspections systems, CBP can screen 100 percent of southbound rail traffic to identify the presence of any contraband, such as weapons or currency. In early March, CBP launched 100 percent southbound rail screening at all Southwest border rail crossings.

Increased Maritime Interdiction Operations

  • In response to numerous U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and CPB reports of go-fast boats loitering or moving north along the California Baja, DHS began focused interdiction operations. Additional operations over the past year have successfully stopped drugs and undocumented migrants from entering the U.S.
  • Operation Baja Oleada: This maritime operation, which began in December 2005, cracks down on illegal migrant and drug smuggling along the California Baja to the arrival zone in northern Baja and San Diego area. The Coast Guard maintains a twenty‑four hours a day, seven days per week patrol boat presence and frequently surges additional patrol boats, with air support as available. In FY 2009, the operation has resulted in seizures of four vessels and more than 50,000 pounds of marijuana.
  • Operation Red Zone: This highly successful interagency operation to detect, deter and disrupt transnational smuggling threats in the maritime approaches to southern California and off Baja California ran from Feb. 1 through March 31, 2009. It involved USCG, CBP, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Navy, local police and Mexican Navy (SEMAR).

Immediate Port of Entry (POE) resources enhancements

  • Mobile X-Rays. This technology enhances the ability of law enforcement authorities to identify currency and weapons in passenger vehicles that may contain weapons and/or currency. Previously, seven mobile x-ray units were deployed along the Southwest border—four in San Diego, two in El Paso, Texas, and one in Laredo, Texas. Two additional units have recently been moved to Tucson, Ariz., and Laredo, Texas. (Cost: $30,000)
  • Border Patrol Agents. One hundred Border Patrol Agents currently stationed in the area will be reassigned from non-critical tasks to augment southbound vehicle and pedestrian inspection operations. More than 16,400 CBP agents currently work between ports of entry along the Southwest border. No personnel will be transferred to implement this initiative. (No cost)
  • Canine Detection Teams. CBP dual-detection canine teams, which can recognize both currency and weapons, provide enhanced detection capabilities in cargo and vehicles and on passengers. CBP currently uses dual-detection teams along the Southwest border; 7 additional dual-detection canine teams have been deployed, for a total of 12 teams in California, Arizona, and Texas. Up to 15 additional teams will be deployed to locations yet to be determined. (Cost: $440,000)
  • Mobile Response Teams (MRT). Mobile Response Teams are deployed for short operations along the Southwest border, providing increased enforcement presence and personnel to conduct additional inspections of southbound individuals and vehicles. Four MRTs, consisting of 25 officers each, are currently available for special deployments along the Southwest border. Twelve additional MRT officers have already been deployed to Texas and Arizona field offices; 24 more are scheduled to be deployed to the California, Texas and Arizona field offices in early May. Combined with the four existing teams, these 36 officers will comprise eight additional teams for a total of 12. Additional deployments will be determined operationally. (Cost: $3.2 million)
  • Operation Stonegarden Grants. DHS designed these grants to enhance cooperation and coordination among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in a joint mission to secure the border. On March 24, DHS distributed an informational bulletin to all eligible state and local entities outlining modified grant guidance for the remaining FY 2006-2008 balances (totaling up to $59 million). The new guidance does not take funding away from any states. Rather, it expands the scope of how the remaining balances can be spent to enhance current state, local and tribal law enforcement operations and assets on the Southwest border. Eligible expenses include activating reserve and part-time law enforcement personnel, deploying existing law enforcement personnel, and covering overtime expenses, travel or lodging for deployment to the Southwest border. Secretary Napolitano waived the 50 percent cap on personnel and operational activity costs for local eligible jurisdictions along the border to provide additional resources where they are needed most.
  • License Plate Readers (LPR). License plate readers are intended to automatically read vehicle license plates and automate law enforcement queries. Southbound LPR information provides valuable intelligence, enhances domestic and international partnerships and assists with current weapon and currency southbound operations. CBP currently operates 52 outbound LPR lanes at 16 Southwest border crossings. CBP has initiated and expanded outbound operations and is moving quickly to replace the 52 LPRs currently equipped in southbound lanes to improve accuracy rates and enhance capability.

Periodic Evaluation and Review of the SWB Initiative

  • DHS will employ an iterative and risk-based decision making process that will guide the nature and makeup of DHS operations on the border. Key considerations will be threats and priorities across of all the Department’s missions. Actions and deployments within this initiative will remain flexible in order to respond quickly and effectively to the most current information and intelligence.
  • Secretary Napolitano will be regularly briefed regarding DHS operations on the Southwest Border and will conduct quarterly reviews of DHS enhancements.

Baja Travel Situation Updated

Southbound NOW!

US Federales and State Highway Patrol are stopping southbound cars prior to the border. They have asked the following questions: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Is this your car? How much money do you have with you? They commonly rifle through belongings. They have the 2 or 3 southbound lanes on the left closed off creating a bottleneck and are using the space for inspections.

Authorities are asking you to declare cash before you leave the USA. The lanes to the left allow them to weigh and x-ray you and the car quickly. They have lots of new toys for detection (happy face placed here). Southbound, you have the option of getting out if you don't want your person to be xrayed, with your vehicle. Southbound wait has become a normal huge wait. Be prepared.


The northbound Sentri guys are also starting to ask questions about where have you been, where are you going and currency questions.







From SY southbound to TJ

Traffic is commonly backed up past the 805 overpass ramp. The 5-805 interchange. More troops are there with guns. New positioning.

Free road from Tijuana south, northbound at Popotla, just south of Blvd 2000/Fox studio is a Mexican Army inspections. These are 45 minute delays. 20 minute waits northbound at Ensenada toll booths.

Shakedowns continue on roads through Tijuana to Rosarito.










Watch live video on Baja Racing News.com



UPDATED! CLICK HERE MAGGOTS!
CHECK OUT THE ST. DEATH PINS, RINGS AND PATCHED UNIFORMS

FEDS STEP UP ON SOUTHBOUND INSPECTIONS CLICK HERE
WHAT THE F TOOK YOU SO LONG, GET TO WORK!


SITUATION UPDATE: CLICK HERE >>>FOR THE DETAILS OF THE NEW U.S. ATF Mexico Travel WARNING regarding Baja Mexico. Too bad the rest of the US Government isn't hip.

Baja 500 in June, now at risk. Between the escalating warnings and the enforced identification requirements and U.S. law enforcement hammering on southbound and northbound entries >>>CLICK HERE Potential Victims.


UPDATED MARCH 22, 2009
Southbound into Mexico:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29822470

Executive Summary: By June 2009, Southbound Inspections will be in full swing at all entry points on the USA side, going INTO MEXICO! Baja Racing News.com has warned about these inspections for years. The Feds have chosen NOW to put the choke-hold onto southbound traffic, going into Mex.

President of the USA plans to send agents and equipment to help in fight on drug cartels.

By Spencer S. Hsu and Mary Beth Sheridan
updated 2:49 a.m. PT, Sun., March. 22, 2009


"President of the USA is finalizing plans to move federal agents, equipment and other resources to the border with Mexico to support Mexican President Felipe Calderón's campaign against violent drug cartels, according to U.S. security officials.

In Obama's first major domestic security initiative, administration officials are expected to announce as early as this week a crackdown on the supply of weapons and cash moving from the United States into Mexico that helps sustain that country's narco-traffickers, officials said.

The announcement sets the stage for Mexico City visits by three Cabinet members, beginning Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and followed next week by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
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Napolitano, designated by Obama to convene a multi-agency security plan for the border, said the government is preparing plans to send more agents and intensify its investigation and prosecution of cartel-related activity in the United States. In addition, she said, the government may expand efforts to trace the sources of guns that move from the United States into Mexico.

To combat the southbound flow of guns, ammunition and grenades at border checkpoints, the government may deploy new equipment, such as scales to weigh vehicles and automated license-plate readers linked to databases, as well as other surveillance technology, she said.

Government officials are discussing how to increase intelligence sharing and military cooperation with Mexico, following a visit there this month by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And the administration could employ tools used to track terrorist financing to follow the flow of funds within the estimated $65 billion North American drug trade. Funds -- estimated at $18 billion to $39 billion a year -- move through wire transfers as well as cash smuggled into Mexico in planes and vehicles and by human "mules."

Sharp increase in killings
Obama, who plans to visit Mexico in mid-April and has said he will have a "comprehensive policy" on border security in place within months, has elevated to the top of the agenda a subject that did not receive significant attention in the presidential campaign. His focus on Mexico follows a sharp increase in drug-related killings in Mexican cities along the border, prompting fears in the United States of destabilization in the populous neighbor. Since the beginning of 2008, more than 7,200 people have died in drug-related violence, according to Mexican authorities.

Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Obama's security and foreign policy aides have spent the past two months reordering their priorities as "snowballing" concern in Congress pushed Mexico "to the front burner" alongside the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama's efforts mark a shift from the homeland security priorities of the Bush administration, targeted mainly at the threat of Islamist terrorists overseas and illegal immigration at home. While the new president has vowed to maintain counter-terrorism efforts, the addition of fighting Mexican drug trafficking as well human smuggling networks represents a new emphasis.

While a Pentagon study in November concluded that the sudden collapses of Mexico and Pakistan into failed states "bear consideration" as potential worst-case threats over 25 years, several senior U.S. intelligence officials disputed that analysis and said they do not believe the cartels will deliberately target U.S. government personnel, interests or civilians in the United States in the near-term.

"The ongoing violence is a concern, but not a national security threat to the United States," said Mike Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council, who said it has largely resulted from Calderón's "determined and courageous" effort to dismantle the cartels.

Spillover violence in the United States is primarily cartel-on-cartel crime, such as kidnappings, Napolitano said. Phoenix, for example, reported 700 kidnappings in the past two years, mostly as human smugglers extorted fees from their clients.

Still, the long-term national security threat both in the United States and in Mexico would be real if Mexican authorities are forced to resume a de facto coexistence with narco-traffickers. Intelligence analysts argue that freedom for transnational crime organizations to operate in large parts of the country could undo Mexico's progress toward democratization and open markets, and erode U.S. influence.

To an extent, Calderón's campaign against traffickers has struggled because, as Mexico has become more democratic, the police and judicial apparatus of the old authoritarian system has crumbled -- but has yet to be replaced by a professional law-enforcement system.

"This is what people miss when they analyze Mexico. Drug trafficking feeds on a country that has a very precarious, if not nonexistent, rule of law," said Denise Dresser, a Mexican political scientist.

The U.S. anti-smuggling effort may make only a dent in the southbound flow of cash and weapons, but could ease the way for further U.S.-Mexican cooperation and help Calderón mobilize public support, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University and a Brookings Institution fellow.

A wave of violence in Mexico last year prompted urgent calls by Calderón for U.S. government action, aimed in part to bolster his weakened political standing ahead of crucial legislative elections in July, analysts say. At the same time, dire reports in the U.S. news media whipped up concern among key lawmakers here.

New degrees of savagery
Bloodletting has taken on new degrees of savagery since Calderón began his assault against the cartels two years ago. The cartels beheaded about 200 people last year, staged grenade attacks in public places and conducted hours-long firefights in border cities.

Calderón's administration has pressed officials in Washington to do more to target U.S. demand for drugs and step up the delivery of promised assistance.

Last year the Bush administration pushed through Congress the Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion counter-trafficking aid package for Mexico and Central America that includes training, military hardware, scanning technology and security database improvements. But Congress has approved only $300 million of the $450 million sought for Mexico in 2009, and delivery of some key equipment, helicopters and surveillance aircraft is not expected until 2011 at the earliest, officials say.

Meanwhile, Congress has held eight hearings on the issue under pressure from those on the right who seek to limit immigration and engagement with Mexico and those on the left who want to decriminalize drugs and tighten gun-control laws. The subject presents a test and an opportunity for Obama officials.

"A Democratic administration more than a Republican administration is going to be sensitive to any notion that it is not serious about a growing national security issue," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

On the other hand, he added, "I don't think the administration wants to play into the hands of those who take a rather xenophobic stance with regard to immigration.""


Northbound FYI: "Presenting Insufficient Documentation

Travelers who do not have the appropriate documents may be delayed while Customs and Border Protection officers attempt to verify their citizenship and identity. They will also be given an informational sheet explaining the new procedures. The intent of this transition is to raise awareness of the change, educate travelers, and allow ample time for travelers to obtain the necessary documents." [Editorial Comment from Gary Newsome, Editor, Baja Racing News.com: After June 1, 2009, and you bring the wrong docs or no docs, while crossing back to the States, the guardians of our nation, DHS, will take a much closer look at you than you expect. Happy face placed here]

NASCAR was reached for comment about racing in Mexico this year, over the past couple of years NASCAR HAD held races in the Republic of Mexico. "We have no plans to return to Mexico for racing". Baja Safari Mexico Club has worked with the insurance company that covered NASCAR in Mexico. Baja Safari General Manager Janice Gilmore commented today, "exploding risks in Mexico and the looming economic depression in the States, preclude 93% of our market to follow through on their usual, annual travel plans".

CLICK HERE ONE YEAR AGO WE ADVISED RACERS ON THE FACTS

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Whatever happened to the guy who got PlaneJacked last year?

American in Baja planejacked talks about the ordeal one year later

Here's the original story:

""Mexico — Gunmen held up a family of U.S. tourists in Mexico on Tuesday and made off with their small plane, police said. The robbers attacked the plane as the American couple and their two daughters, ages 6 and 8, were about to take off from a hotel airstrip in the Baja California beach town of Mulege. Detective Juan Carlos de Jesus Jimenez said the thieves pulled a car in front of the six-seat Cessna Stationair, knocked out one of its windows and forced the tourists out at gunpoint. They then set fire to the car and flew off in the plane. U.S. officials said they had heard reports about the incident but had not yet been in contact with the victims. The plane's identification number matched a craft registered to a company in Boise, Idaho. Small aircraft are commonly used by Mexican drug cartels to smuggle narcotics.""



Today: The last time Patrick Moroney saw his Cessna Stationair 206, it was flying away from a rural airstrip in Mulege, Mexico - hijacked by gun-toting drug runners who left him and his stunned family abandoned beside a burning car.

Moroney still hasn't heard anything about the fate of his plane - either by the US or Mexican authorities - and he is glad, since he figures it has been used for nefarious purposes.

"The plane is gone forever, as far as I am concerned," Moroney said. "I haven't heard if the Mexican government found it or not. And if they do find it, now it belongs to the insurance company."

A year later, violence in Mexico has gotten so bad the U.S. government has warned spring breakers and other travelers to be wary or avoid going altogether. For the first time, the Moroneys - who own the Cobby's Sandwich Shops around the Treasure Valley - sat down with the Statesman and offered details of their harrowing experience.

Moroney blames the hijacking on bad timing. He had the right plane - the Cessna 206 is favored by drug runners for its cargo doors and storage - in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"There were 50 planes at the airport the day before, but only one C-206," he said.

Four Cessnas have been stolen in Mexico since the day the Moroneys watched theirs fly away - and three of those were 206s, according to the Aviation Crime Prevention Institute.

Both Moroney and his wife, Kim, have had their share of sleepless nights and moments of panic over the last year, but mostly they remember the feeling of disbelief.

"I was so damn mad. ... I was just ... it was like, 'Those SOBs just got my airplane!'" Pat Moroney said. "They took the computers, cameras, money ... it was all gone."

They haven't been contacted by the Mexican government or law enforcement since leaving the country last May.

The only information they did get was from people who live in Mulege who told Moroney that two people believed to be involved were found by the Mexican government weeks after the hijacking. One was dead, beaten and burned. The other was in jail.

"SCARY AS HELL"

April 14, 2008, started normally enough for the Moroneys, who were on vacation with Kim's brother and his wife and their two girls, ages 6 and 8.

They had spent some time at a rented home in Mulege and were going to fly around Baja for a few days. They packed up the plane and Moroney taxied down the U-shaped runway.

They were almost through the turn when he saw several men jumping over bushes and a fence onto the runway. A car blocked the plane.

"As soon as I saw the gun, I knew exactly what they were after," Moroney said.

One of the bandits broke the window in the driver's door with a large rock.

"He reached inside and pulled the door open ... then he was yelling at me not to shut off the engine, because they know the engines in those airplanes are hard to start once they get hot," Moroney said. "So I turned it off. I was going to make this as difficult as I could.

"I thought there was no way I am getting my family out of this plane with a propeller moving. They jerked me out of the plane."

"Everyone in the back of the airplane was confused because the intercom was turned off," Kim Moroney said. "When I saw the gun, I tried to explain to my sister-in-law that they wanted to steal the airplane and we have to get out."

One of the bandits tried to get Kim Moroney out of the plane and take her purse. She was so concerned about getting the girls, she elbowed him back without thinking.

"I kept telling them, 'las ninas, las ninas,' because I don't think they knew the girls were in the back," she said. "We were not moving without them."

On the other side of the plane, the bandits had thrown Pat Moroney to the ground. When he sprung back up, one of the bandits pointed a gun at him.

"They told me I was going to die," Pat Moroney said. "I told them I have to get my family, and I wouldn't go back down. Then I saw Kim and the kids running on the runway. They were out. So then I was OK. It was a huge relief."

The two remember different faces from those few moments. Kim Moroney recalls a young man who looked to be about 16 - not much older than the two girls.

"I think he was just as afraid as I was," she said.

Her husband can still see the bandit who pointed the gun.

"I'll never forget that guy's face - the cold, dead eyes never showed one bit of emotion," he said. "I don't think he ever would have flinched if he shot me."

The bandits lit the car on fire to destroy any evidence before all six men piled into the plane. It was so full of cargo and hijackers that it barely took off by the end of the runway.

"We were just standing there," Pat Moroney said. "I couldn't believe what happened."

The two young girls were scared but didn't really understand what happened, Kim Moroney said.

"They were more upset that the airplane was stolen. That is what got them the most," she said. "They were like, 'How could they do that?' "

NOW WHAT?

The Moroneys spent the next few days with Mexican federal police investigators, going over the hijacking again and again.

Kim Moroney had been able to keep her purse, and Pat Moroney his wallet. She managed to grab the girls' backpacks and almost grabbed her husband's, but the bandits pushed her away before she could get it.

It held their passports and their money.

Kim Moroney's brother's family still had lodging reservations in Los Barilles, near the southern tip of Baja. They decided the best thing to do was finish their vacation - to not let the thieves steal that, too.

Because Kim's brother's family flew into the central Baja town of Loreto on a commercial airline, they were able to get boarding letters from the U.S. government to get back into the country after a few days of negotiation.

It would not be so smooth for Pat and Kim Moroney.

Congressman to the rescue. The Moroneys had flown their own plane to Mexico, so no airline had a record of their citizenship.

They couldn't buy commercial tickets because the U.S. government consulate in Tijuana would not send them the letter they needed. Negotiations took almost three weeks.

Officials eventually told them they would have to take a bus to Tijuana - a 10-hour ride - and cross the border by showing their driver's licenses, Kim Moroney said. The couple was livid.

"We were not going to take a bus to the most violent city in Mexico - it was ludicrous," Pat Moroney said.

"When I asked the U.S. consulate about the boarding letter, he said we only do that for special cases," Kim Moroney said. "I didn't know what to say to the guy - I would consider my husband and I special cases. We just went through an assault."

Kim Moroney called then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's staffers. They promised to help but nothing happened.

But less than two hours after her initial conversation with one of then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sali's employees, the congressman called back.

"He called from D.C. and told us we were his No. 1 priority," she said. "Within hours, we got a phone call from the U.S. consulate. They said, 'It appears you and your husband know the right people, because we have been forced to order you a border letter.'"

Readers View: "This guy might be good at making sandwiches but he doesn't sound like the sharpest knife in the drawer. He's EXTREMELY lucky his entire family didn't end up dead. Who flies his family in a Cessna 206 (the "widow-maker") to MEXICO for a vacation?! Are you kidding me?

Another: "Visiting Mexico for any reason is lunacy. Those people are lucky they escaped with their lives and safety. The place has always been in a state of anarchy, only worse now. Expect to get tortured and beheaded for going to that nation."

Another: "Looks like we need to clean house in the Consulate. They were "forced" to help US citizens??? Excuse Me? No help without a push shows total corruption."

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