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Featured Artifact: An "Extra Special" Espresso Machine

espresso machine smuggling device

U.S. Customs Service Commissioner William von Raab revealed what he hoped was a “crippling blow” to a major international drug smuggling operation. The story made the front page of the New York Times on February 23, 1982, under the headline “Heroin Valued At $70 Million Reported Seized.” 

Customs agents became suspicious of a cargo container off-loaded from an Italian ship at Newark, New Jersey. Inside were two cars and 13 espresso machines—espresso machines with non-functional parts. Agents stripped the autos, but found nothing. They had better luck with the espresso machines; eight of them yielded packages of heroin wrapped in plastic and tin foil that were jammed into steel containers, sealed in wax, and stuffed into the boilers. The agents swapped the heroin for harmless quinine powder, tracked the delivery to a shop in Brooklyn, New York, and arrested the shop owner.

One of the espresso machines was claimed by von Raab, who converted it into a working coffee maker and used it in the Commissioner’s Suite at Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C. At the end of his tenure, the espresso machine was turned over to the Customs Archives. It remains a part of the historical collections at CBP today.

SMUGGLING DEVICE / ESPRESSO MACHINE
Object ID# 2012.3.1
Approx. 37 inches high, 20 inches diameter.
Large copper boiler with attached pipes, 
gauges and electrical power cord.

Note: This espresso machine smuggling device is currently on public display at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. It is in an exhibit case at the Global Entry Enrollment Center, and may be seen from both inside and outside the room.

Last modified: 
May 15, 2019
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