10,000 gallons of counterfeit, deadly alcohol are seized from 31 Mexican resorts

Theresa Edwards
Theresa Edwards
10,000 gallons of counterfeit, deadly alcohol are seized from 31 Mexican resorts

A sprawling raid conducted on some of the most popular resorts, nightclubs, and restaurants in two of the most popular Mexican tourist destinations earlier this month drudged up a disturbing and stubborn problem south of the border.

Mexican officials searched 31 hotspots in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen -- including watering holes popular among spring breakers and all-inclusive family resorts -- and what they found resulted in the temporary closure of two. 10,000 gallons of tainted bootleg alcohol were seized from one of the region’s primary alcohol manufacturer as well.

News of the raid, first reported by The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, represents answers and a sense of vindication for the tourists and their families who suspect that tainted alcohol was behind inexplicable blackouts.

Particularly, the seemingly mysterious death of a Wisconsin woman at the all-inclusive resort Iberostar near Playa Del Carmen where she was staying with her family. Abbey Conner, 20 and her brother Austin Conner, 22, both blacked out in Iberostar’s pool after consuming shots of tequila, resulting in Abbey’s death. Particularly strange was the sibling’s BAC, impossibly high for the amount of alcohol the two consumed. Other troubling complaints from tourists include being robbed and sexually assaulted during alcohol-induced blackouts after even just moderate consumption.

It’s tempting to imagine that this seizure will put an end to these troubling events, or to think that it represents a unique and recent problem. Nothing could be further from the truth, it seems.

Apparently, those 10,000 gallons are just a drop in a sea of unregulated, potentially deadly booze. In 2015, the Mexican Tax Administration Service announced that 43 percent of all alcohol across all types of alcohol that’s stirred, shaken, or served straight up to tourists and locals alike is counterfeit. And that’s been the case for nearly a decade. Since 2010, over 1.4 million gallons of the stuff has been seized from establishments all over the country.

Methanol and grain alcohol are cheap and frequently found in the bad booze. Both are capable of inducing intoxication much more quickly than ethanol, and if there’s enough of it in even one drink, consuming it can cause blackouts or worse. And it definitely has. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke to a slew of tourists who experienced a rapid level of intoxication that resulted in serious intoxication and disturbing blackouts over the years. These incidents often go unreported or uninvestigated because it is easy to draw the assumption that the complainants simply overindulged while on vacation. Some even come to that conclusion on their own.

Now, as a result of The Journal-Sentinel’s investigation, the U.S. State Department recently added a lukewarm warning to its resource page for Americans hoping to travel to Mexico. 

10,000 gallons of counterfeit, deadly alcohol are seized from 31 Mexican resorts

Image: US State Dept.

We deserve to have this information at our disposal, and it’s fortunate that we do. It’s just too bad that it took the tragic death of a promising young woman to finally get it.