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News Briefs I

One Agent Dies in Gang Battle With Customs Officials for Cash

Los angeles times
Mexico city

An armed gang apparently working for drug traffickers battled with Mexican customs agents near the U.S. border, killing a Mexican official and wounding at least one American, after the agents stopped a van smuggling $123,000 in cash, officials said Monday.

The firefight late Sunday - just 50 yards from the U.S. Customs station at Nogales, Ariz. - highlighted the increasing threat that drug-trafficking violence poses to the U.S. border area. The case also appeared to provide further evidence that traffickers are sending their cash back to Mexico in bulk, to avoid money-laundering controls.

One agent - identified as Jose Toledo Guadarrama, 31 - was killed and another wounded, said a statement from Mexico's tax department, which oversees customs.

The government statement said two Americans were wounded in the firefight. They had been in line at Mexican customs, waiting to cross into the United States, when the clash occurred, the statement said. They suffered minor injuries and were treated at a hospital in Nogales, it said, providing no details.

U.S. authorities have sharply stepped up seizures of cash on the border this year - a sign, they say, that drug traffickers are increasingly sending their profits home in bulk. The drug gangs are apparently trying to dodge increasingly strict U.S. measures aimed at money launderers.

Ford Motor Co. Reaches Agreement To Consolidate Dealerships

Los Angeles Times

After two failed attempts elsewhere, Ford Motor Co. said Monday that it had reached agreements to consolidate some of its dealerships in San Diego and Tulsa, Okla., and replace them with auto superstores and satellite service centers.

Ford acquired four Lincoln-Mercury stores in San Diego over the last year and a half, and has since closed three of those locations. It recently brought in a new executive-owner to operate the fourth and largest, Lincoln-Mercury of Mission Valley.

In Tulsa, the company is creating a partnership with dealers to own and operate the area's six Ford and two Lincoln Mercury dealerships. Some of the existing facilities will be replaced with two or three superstores, supported by several satellite service centers.

The moves are part of a broader effort by Ford to upgrade its retailing operations in the face of competition from publicly owned dealer chains and superstore operators, such as Republic Industries.

Ford hopes to trim its dealer ranks, cut distribution costs and adopt new consumer-friendly sales techniques, such as fixed-price selling and salaried sales agents. It also wants to build off-site service centers to provide routine maintenance closer to customers' homes and offices.