In August, 2000, DEA/Albany conducted a joint investigation with local police departments in which two (2) ounces of crack cocaine was seized from a 1997 Ford Taurus. The initial search of the vehicle was negative. A K-9 officer was brought in and the dog was alerted to the passenger side of the vehicle. The officer found wiring indicating a hidden compartment. An explosion occurred while attempting to short-circuit the wire to activate the compartment. As of result of the explosion, New York State Police's Explosives Unit was called to the scene and they were able to active the compartment which was located under the passenger side airbag. Further examination revealed the airbag was removed and the compartment was modified. A carbon dioxide (CO2) canister was rewired to the passenger side door. If the compartment was opened any way other than the designated way, the passenger side door panels would explode.
U.S. Customs in El Paso, Texas has obtained information indicating that a drug smuggling organization is removing airbags and replacing them with pouches filled with nails, bolts and other small metal objects. Furthermore, bundles of drugs are being placed into hidden compartments located in another area of the dashboard. These bundles are connected to the triggering device of the airbag mechanism via a trip wire. Upon removal of the drug bundles, the airbag mechanism device is activated resulting in an explosive release of nails and bolts.
Officers should use extreme caution when examining passenger airbags to determine if a concealed compartment is presented. Officers should also take precaution not to position them directly in front of the air bag compartment.
For more information, please contact Special Agent Calderone, (212) 337-2745 or Detective Ellen Friedman, (212) 337-2723.