A bittersweet homecoming for Tijuana printers Francisco Rivera and Alfonso Calderon: sweet, for their release from Mexico's most hellish prison, bitter, because they were falsely imprisoned as drug runners after buying a car from the U.S. Marshals loaded with hidden marijuana.
The men were arrested at a Mexican checkpoint when solders found 19 pounds of pot hidden in the truck. They bought the truck at a federal lot near San Diego where vehicles seized from drug smugglers and other criminals are sold at government auctions.
A thorough inspection is required, yet, as CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, U.S. customs agents missed the hidden pot. A Mexican judge couldn't believe Americans with dogs and technology didn't spot the drugs and sentenced the two printers to five years in prison. The U.S., not only ignored their pleas for help, but fought to keep exonerating evidence from their attorneys.
"They turned their back on us at the moment we needed them most," says Alfonso Calderon, speaking in Spanish. "They were the ones who got us into this mess. They sold us a car loaded with drugs."
They were released only when their attorneys proved the moldy marijuana was in the car long before the printers bought it.
The same thing happened to 67-year-old Tijuana businessman Jose Aguado Cervantes. He spent more than three months in a U.S. jail after agents found 119 pounds of marijuana hidden in the bumper of a car he'd bought at the U.S. auction.
"I put 100 percent of my trust in the American government," he says in Spanish. "I never imagined they would sell me a car loaded with drugs.
No one from the government would speak on camera, but in legal documents, U.S. attorneys say the government did nothing wrong and since some of the cars auctioned here were seized from drug smugglers, the onus, they say, is on the buyers to make sure the cars are drug free. In short, buyers beware.
"I don't think 'as is' to the normal consumer means, 'If I buy it and it's stuffed full of drugs that I'm unaware of and I get arrested, that's my problem,'" says Teresa Trucchi, attorney for Rivera and Calderon.
Trucchi said the U.S. has a responsibility to search seized cars. In the Cervantes case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called the government's position "embarrassing" and threw it back to a lower court. Still, the U.S. attorney claims the government has immunity and vows to fight to the Supreme Court.
"It's shameful the U.S. government is hiding behind excuses," says Calderon. "I don't know what law gave them the right to damage lives."
No one knows how many drug-laden cars the U.S. has sold. In recent weeks a California man was thrown in a Mexican jail when 33 pounds of marijuana were found in a car he bought from the U.S. government.