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America's Curiously Famous Drug-Smuggling Border Trap

America's Curiously Famous Drug-Smuggling Border Trap
Photograph by Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images

Never bring drugs into Sierra Blanca, Tex. The tiny town near the Mexican border serves as a major immigration and smuggling checkpoint for vehicles traveling between California and Florida. Agents at that checkpoint have a knack for arresting people on even the smallest of drug charges, especially when they’re celebrities. Snoop Dogg (sorry, “Snoop Lion”), Willie Nelson, actor Armie Hammer (who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network), and hacker George Hotz have all been arrested on drug charges there. On Sept. 19, Sierra Blanca agents snagged another one: Fiona Apple, who had .01 pounds of marijuana and .01 lbs. of hash in her tour bus. Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with Rusty Fleming, public information officer at Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, about why the obscure Texas town has become the most famous border checkpoint in the U.S.

What are so many celebrities doing in Sierra Blanca, anyway?
The Sierra Blanca checkpoint is right along Interstate 10 that runs from the West Coast to the East Coast. If you’re going to go from L.A. to Houston, or San Antonio, or New Orleans, or Florida, you have to come right through here. To my knowledge, on I-10 from L.A. to Florida, this is the only checkpoint that I know of on the eastbound side. That’s the primary reason that tour buses and those kind of people come through here all the time. The checkpoint is set up by Department of Homeland Security— i.e., border patrol.