Walter Lippman-Avilez was hoping for a quick traipse through customs when he stepped off his Aeromexico flight from Mexico City just after 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The Guatemalan's previous trip to the U.S. had gone smoothly enough, after all, and he saw no reason why this one shouldn't be the same.
What Lippman-Avilez failed to take into account was that U.S. Customs and Border Protection would remember quite clearly that another Lippman-Avilez from Guatemala -- Cristopher, Walter's brother -- had been arrested last April for trying to smuggle several pounds of heroin across the Mexican border into San Diego. And so, when he presented his passport to customs agents, he was pulled aside for a more thorough screening.
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At first, Lippman-Avilez said he was in the country to buy a couple of cars to ship back to Guatemala, proffering his customs declaration, on which he swore he was not transporting illegal drugs, as proof that he was on the up and up. But then, when his inquisitors pointed out that he had only $1,200, hardly enough to buy one functioning automobile, much less two, and mentioned his brother, Lippman-Avilez started to sweat. Finally, after 45 minutes of questioning, he agreed to be X-rayed.
And so, several hours later, Lippman-Avilez found himself at Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine, taking a crap under the watchful gaze of a customs agent eager to determine what was inside the dozen or more foreign objects the X-ray had revealed lodged inside his digestive system. The lucky agent plucked one capsule from the nine that passed on Lippman-Avilez' first try and pried it open to reveal a brown, powdery substance: heroin.
At this point, Lippman-Avilez waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with a pair of investigators with the Department of Homeland Security. He'd swallowed the pellets the day before, he told them, 70 in all. He'd been promised $75 for each capsule he safely delivered to New York, but he wasn't in it for the money but because drug lords were harassing his family.
Maybe so, but it was Lippman-Avilez, not a drug lord, who'd stuffed himself with a kilogram of heroin and tried to slip through security at DFW, and it was Lippman-Avilez, not the drug lord, whose bowel movements were monitored for the two days and 14 minutes it took to pass the last of the pellets. And finally, it was Lippman-Avilez, not the drug lord, whose being charged with trafficking heroin into the United States. If convicted, he faces 5 to 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine.