CINCINNATI— U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and specialists in Cincinnati posted record-breaking numbers of enforcement actions during Fiscal Year 2022. From October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022, Cincinnati seized 6,084 shipments, putting them in fourth place nationwide, and specialists issued 9,130 Emergency Action Notifications (EANs), third place nationwide and the highest number of agriculture and biological seizures ever recorded at the port.
“These enforcement statistics are a reflection of the talent and professionalism displayed by the men and women at the Port of Cincinnati,” said Cincinnati Port Director Richard Gillespie. “As the international trade volumes continue to soar, these officers and specialists consistently protect our frontline by stopping thousands of illicit shipments while facilitating more than 69 million legitimate transactions.”
During FY 2022, officers seized 9,471 pounds, or 4.3 tons, of narcotics in 1,043 shipments attempting to make entry, exit from, or transit through the United States. Remarkably, Port of Cincinnati outbound seizures increased by more than 1,400% from the previous fiscal year. Some notable seizures include:
- When officers stopped a shipment of phone cases in March, they noticed the cases had an unusual crystalline texture that left a white residue on their gloves during inspection. They tested the cases and found they were formed from methamphetamine. The shipment originated in California and was destined to Australia.
- In April, an officer became suspicious while inspecting a shipment of hammocks after witnessing a puff of powder rise up from a strand of the fabric during inspection. Tests showed the hammocks were soaked in methamphetamine. The shipment was coming from Mexico and headed to Spain.
- The following month, Narcotics Detector Dog “Bruno” alerted to a shipment coming from Mexico and headed to Australia. The shipment held two electric popcorn poppers with methamphetamine concealed beneath foam insulation.
Officers also found methamphetamine in nasal spray, waterproofing sealant, horse saddles, baby diapers, bottles of honey, owl decorations, and molded into cardboard to form plates and into plaster to make kids’ chairs. Sometimes criminals didn’t bother to conceal anything at all, such as a 35-pound box full of nothing but methamphetamine enroute from China to New York.
Unique concealment methods for cocaine included packed inside jet ski parts, embedded within wooden ash trays and epoxy paintings, and slid into lead aprons.
Rifle barrels were found smuggled in curtain rods, cash was smuggled in microwaves, school supplies, and speakers, and heroin mixed into shampoo and slipped into sandal soles.
Another significant seizure came disguised as a custom-made child’s loveseat. Officers located 28 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms hidden behind expanding foam under the sofa’s seat cushions. The mushrooms had been on their way to a residence in Kissimmee, Florida from Toronto, Canada.
Officers found fentanyl originating from the United States, Mexico, and Canada headed to various countries and locations throughout the U.S. One shipment held candles, shoes, and clothing that originated from Woodbridge, Virginia and was en route to Sierra Leone. A closer look at the candles showed they held small bottles of a white powder that tested positive for fentanyl.
Cincinnati’s top three narcotics seizures, by weight, were Methamphetamine (1,872 pounds), Marijuana (1,541 pounds), and Cocaine (730 pounds), which would have had a street value total over $28.5 million.
CBP Agriculture Specialists (CBPAS) assigned to the Port of Cincinnati issued 9,130 EANs for violative commodities (a 14% increase from FY21), including 242 pest interceptions (a 127% increase over FY 21).
CBPAS intercepted banana plantlets disguised as shredded squid, birds’ nests loaded into potato chip cannisters, live ants posing as hardware screws, actionable pests in educational toys, and more than 100 tropical plants smuggled between layers of clothing. One particularly interesting shipment of strawberry jam turned out to hold frozen snakes and rodents. Another shipment of kitchenware was found to contain smuggled pork and duck meat. Animal and plant products are regulated to prevent the entry of dangerous foreign pests and diseases such as African Swine Fever.
Cincinnati Biological Threat Operation Specialists (BTOS) discovered multiple shipments of unknown-origin recombinant proteins from China accompanied with fraudulent documentation. BTOS found engineered plasmids and vectors with fraudulent documentation, derivatives of USDA-and CDC-controlled bacteria leading to 62 seizures of unknown biological materials, and more than 130 shipments of organisms of concern such as Clostridium spp., Salmonella spp., Listeria spp., and Legionella spp., among others.
Other notable interceptions included bats—known zoonotic disease vectors—smuggled as tricycles, and a shipment of blood presumed infected with Glanders, a Tier 1 Select Agent. Select Agents are organisms and toxins known to cause severe threat to public health and safety and are strictly regulated by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture. The bats and blood were destroyed as medical waste.
During FY 2022, the Port of Cincinnati seized 1,103 IPR violative shipments with a total Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $105,549,423 had the products been real. About 60% of this MSRP total, $63,747,269, came from 160 seizures of counterfeit jewelry. Officers seized $12 million worth of fake electronics such as Apple AirPods and lightening cords. Other high dollar seizures included counterfeit computer parts such as Cisco switches.
The port also submitted 4,894 shipments into the IPR Abandonment Program (IPRAP), saving taxpayers approximately $10.1 million dollars. IPRAP permits importers to abandon small shipments containing IPR violations rather than having the agency seize the product.
- Cincinnati CBP intercepted 1,382 fake championship rings from October 2021 through December 2021. The rings, which arrived in 56 separate shipments, would have been worth $982,263.
- On December 24, CBP officers in Cincinnati seized a shipment containing 13,467 pieces of counterfeit jewelry bearing protected trademarks of Bvlgari, Cartier, Coach, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Rolex, Tiffany, Tori Burch, and Versace. The jewelry, which came from China, would have been worth a total of $3,727,488 million had it been genuine.
- In September, officers seized more than $10 million in fake jewelry contained in three shipments.
Officers also seized 2,133 counterfeit identity documents during FY 2022, which is a 213% increase over FY 2021. Notable finds include:
- A passport intended for a suspected non-citizen terrorist
- Chinese passports with fake U.S. visas
- 16 passports with links to a known human smuggling ring
- A counterfeit passport for a federal escapee
- Documents intended for entities on Interpol watchlists and known members of transnational criminal organizations in multiple countries
Cincinnati has enjoyed nationwide and global success in developing relationships with other government agencies at all levels of law enforcement. Officers working with state and local law enforcement and task force operations assisted with numerous cases involving child pornography, narcotics, and currency smuggling, leading to more than 100 criminal arrests and the identification of multiple victims, including minors, in the United States and abroad.
“The skills and dedication our frontline employees bring to work every day are key to the successes we can share year after year,” said LaFonda D. Sutton-Burke, Director of Field Operations for the Chicago Field Office. “Our workforce operates in some of the most challenging environments across the country and around the world, and they continue to serve their country and its citizens with integrity.”
Follow CBP on Twitter @CBPChicago and @DFOChicago.