Homeland Security agents discovered about one kilogram of methamphetamine hidden in the frames of religious artwork, according to an affidavit filed in a federal criminal case and unsealed Friday.
Prosecutors filed the affidavit in support of smuggling charges against Carmelo Rojas-Perez, who lived in Oakland. On Thursday, he waived a hearing at which he could have challenged his detention in the Allegheny County Jail.
According to the affidavit, customs agents at a FedEx hub in Memphis last week searched a package sent from Toluca, Mexico, to an address on Atwood Street.
The package contained two pieces of artwork -- one depicting the Virgin Mary and another of an unidentified saint -- with about a kilo of meth in the frames.
The powder was hidden in "long black wrapped rectangular packaging ... secreted in hollowed out sections of the wooden picture frame," according to the affidavit.
Agents resealed the package and turned it over to Homeland Security investigations. Research indicated that a similar package was shipped from Toluca to the same Oakland address a week earlier.
Homeland Security agents posing as delivery men brought the package to the address, where a man identified as Mr. Rojas-Perez eventually picked it up, according to the affidavit.
Three hours later, agents went through the door and executed a search warrant of his apartment, according to the affidavit. They wrote that they found the unopened parcel, along with a picture identical to one of those in the parcel on a table by the defendant's bed.
Mr. Rojas-Perez told agents that he was a citizen of Mexico who had been living in the United States without legal status for about 20 years, according to the affidavit. His cell phone contained photos of around $11,000 that Mr. Rojas-Perez said he had saved up to pay someone to smuggle his brother into the country, and a pile of white powder that the defendant said was "fake" drugs, the agents wrote.
The assistant federal public defender representing Mr. Rojas-Perez declined comment.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord.