A Texas man, lured by the promise of fast money and a free car, faces federal prison on drug smuggling charges after answering a Facebook ad that sought drivers to travel between the United States and Mexico.
Nicholas John Zotos, a Dallas native, was accused of conspiring and transporting 25 kilograms, or 55 pounds, of cocaine through a Rio Grande Valley port of entry, according to a criminal complaint filed last year.
Zotos said it all started when he answered a Facebook ad offering $5,000 to drive to Mexico and back to Texas.
On April 30, 2017, Zotos bought a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck in Houston and registered it under his name with $12,000 given to him by his alleged co-workers. According to the complaint, Zotos drove it to Laredo, Rio Grande City, and, then, to Mexico where he had lunch with one of these associates. While they ate, another individual picked up the truck. He later returned it.
Subsequently, Zotos drove the truck and tried to re-enter the U.S through Rio Grande City. There, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer detained him at the port of entry. According to the complaint, Zotos initially told a primary inspection agent he went to Carmago, Tamaulipas, to take photographs of Mexican restaurants because “he wanted to have ideas for a restaurant that he plans to open.”
The agent referred Zotos for a secondary inspection where a CBP officer noticed anomalies with the truck’s tires. He X-rayed them. Authorities found 20 packages of cocaine wrapped in duct tape, containing the 25 kilos. They were hidden in aluminum containers welded inside the rims of all four tires.
During questioning, Zotos told investigators his coworkers ordered him to drive alone on the return trip to Texas. Zotos allowed a task force officer with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to search his cell phone. It contained audio messages from when Zotos inquired about the job ad. In one, a woman explained to Zotos he would be introduced to “the boss” and discuss a vehicle purchase that would be used to transport “loads” from Mexico into Texas. The woman promised Zotos he would make a lot of money and get a free vehicle.
Former FBI agent turned security consultant Arturo Fontes told KRGV these kinds of jobs are in high demand. Drug smugglers have gaps and need drivers to transport drugs from Mexico and across the U.S. border.
“Some of these drivers are most likely innocent and they’re caught with a drug load,” said Fontes. “Unfortunately, some of them, if they have a prior and they get caught with drugs and they were unwitting, it could be unfavorable to the driver.”
Fontes cautioned job seekers to thoroughly vet a company before accepting any position. He also warned that ads for drivers are posted on many other social media sites, too, including Craigslist and Snapchat.
Zotos pleaded guilty to one count of intentionally and knowingly importing drugs as part of a plea agreement. He is expected to be sentenced in federal court before the end of the week.