By Mary Slosson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A record 14 tons of marijuana, valued at over $22.6 million, was seized in the California desert at a checkpoint roughly 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, federal officials said on Friday.
Agents found the marijuana in 1,100 bundles concealed inside a tractor-trailer, marking the largest checkpoint cannabis seizure ever for the border patrol's El Centro sector in Southern California, the agency said.
The bust on Wednesday also ranked as one of the biggest U.S. checkpoint seizures outside a border crossing nationwide, border patrol spokesman Jonathan Creiglow said.
"This is definitely exceptional," Creiglow said, adding that the volume topped the amount of marijuana confiscated at the same checkpoint for all of 2009 and 2010 together.
Roughly 10,000 pounds of marijuana was seized in 2010 and 17,000 pounds in 2009, he said. An estimated 18,000 pounds have been confiscated so far this year, in addition to Wednesday's seizure.
"This seizure is the largest seizure of marijuana in Imperial County," Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Amy Roderick said in an e-mail to Reuters.
Agents discovered the cannabis stashed in wooden crates after a canine team honed in on the trailer and agents scanned it for drugs.
California straddles a heavily trafficked route for powerful Mexican cartels smuggling marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines into the United States to meet voracious demand for drugs.
Neither the border patrol nor the DEA would say where the trailer full of marijuana originated or what its intended destination may have been.
The checkpoint is located near Salton City, along the main route from the Mexican border town of Mexicali through the desert to Palm Springs.
A 35-year-old man who had been driving the large tractor-trailer was arrested and is now in DEA custody, according to the border patrol.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)