A drug ring attempted to ship nearly 12 kilograms of meth to Hawaii disguised as decorative Aztec items.

At first glance, they might have appeared to be ancient artifacts, or at least cheesy souvenir imitations, but a shipment of Aztec-style statues and calendars actually contained pure methamphetamine bound for Hawaii, federal officials say. 

On Oct. 15, agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested eight people around Los Angeles, alleging they were involved in a drug ring that attempted to ship nearly 12 kilograms of meth to Hawaii disguised as decorative Aztec items. Officials say these were part of a “nearly 90-pound shipment that appeared to be colorful, decorative Mexican items, including replicas of the 500-year-old Aztec calendar stone.”

A ninth suspect was already in federal custody on unrelated charges. 

“Methamphetamine—no matter how it’s packaged—is a powerful drug that devastates our communities,” Mark Zito, assistant special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles said in a press release. “HSI will continue to closely collaborate with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to keep this dangerous contraband from reaching our streets.”

Over the course of the last year, members of the ring have sent other meth shipments to Hawaii, the feds said. 

The individuals named on the federal indictment in the case are Felix Salgado, 28, of Perris, who allegedly bought wholesale quantities of meth for the conspiracy; Vaimanino Lee Pomele, 49, of Garden Grove, who allegedly orchestrated the shipments to Hawaii and his wife, Alejandra Pomele, 44, who allegedly delivered narcotics; and six others.

Recently meth seizures have been on the rise, fueled by Mexican cartels pushing the drug. 

“They came in with much purer, much cheaper meth and just flooded this region of the country,” Richard Salter, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent with 27 years of experience, told KITV in September.  

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a 50% increase in the amount of meth seized compared to this time last year, according to Anne Maricich, deputy director of field operations for the agency’s San Diego ports of entry.

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“The other hard narcotics like cocaine, heroin and fentanyl, we see them—they’re prevalent at our border crossings, but nowhere near the quantities that we see of meth,” she said.

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