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Woman sentenced to eight months in custody for smuggling pesticides harmful to honey bees and humans

Sofia Mancera Morales will have to pay $7,497 in restitution for the disposal of toxic pesticides.

A woman received an eight-month sentence in custody for illegally smuggling pesticides into the United States that are harmful to honeybees and humans. 

Sofia Mancera Morales will have to pay $7,497 in restitution for the disposal of illegal pesticides used to control varroa mites in honeybee colonies, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Diego. 

Prosecutors reported that the pesticides involved were primarily Bovitraz and Taktic, containing the active ingredient amitraz in a concentrated form of 12.5 percent, which is unpermitted in the United States. Amitraz is an acaricide to control varroa mites in honeybee colonies, but the permitted concentration in the United States is 3.3 percent. 

Misuse of amitraz-containing products in beehives can result in exposure to humans that could cause neurological and reproductive effects after consuming contaminated honey. Prosecutors cite animal toxicity studies that indicate amitraz is slightly toxic by the oral and inhalation routes and moderately toxic through the skin. The chemical is registered for use in dog flea collars at permissible concentrations. 
Other studies have shown humans appear to be more sensitive to amitraz than animals. The acaricide is classified as a Group C possible human carcinogen based on rodent studies suggesting that long-term exposure could result in cancer.

“The pesticides involved in this case pose serious public health and environmental dangers,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in California. “The sentence, in this case, demonstrates that individuals who intentionally violate smuggling and environmental protection laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”

According to sentencing documents, Morales recruited individuals on Facebook, offering to pay $40-$150 for each box of six 1-liter bottles delivered to the United States. Prosecutors said she paid recruits to lease self-storage units near Calexico in their own names and instructed them to provide her with keys. 

Recruits caught smuggling the product across the border told authorities they saw other items delivered to the storage units. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, one transported almost 1,000 bottles of pesticides in a one-month period. Others admitted to making pesticide deliveries 2-5 times a week. 

“In exchange for ill-begotten profits, this cavalier smuggling operation was more than willing to risk the public’s health and the honeybee industry, which is critical to pollinating our food supply,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “This office and our law enforcement partners will not stand idly by in the face of pesticide 3 smugglings. Perpetrators of environmental crimes will be investigated and held accountable."