Top 10 U.S. Customs Seizures Of 2010, Including $9 Million Train-Load Of Pot In California

Jumping at another chance to flex some red-white-and-blue muscle this New Year -- and surely aware of the Internet's obsession with Top 10 lists -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials released their own year-end pat on the back.

(For the Weekly's self-congratulatory countdown, see "Top 10 LA Weekly News Stories Of 2010: Sex, Drugs, One Absurdly Long Tongue And The 'Attempted Lynching' That Shook Los Angeles.")

A proud four California smuggling attempts made the cut: a 600-yard tunnel used to import 30 tons of weed; a $9 million pot shipment tucked inside train cars; 156,900 faux designer sunglasses; and a brand-new bug in a bunch of pineapples.

Here's the full list, including scuba gear in the sewer and enough ecstasy to achieve World Peace (or at least kill off a few more ravers):

10. "$9 Million in Marijuana Stopped by CBP in Railroad Shipment"

At the Calexico railroad yard, an intensive inspection that included a canine team led officers to the discovery of 352 wrapped packages concealed under layers of glass, dirt and wood in the gondola rail car.

9. "Tacoma Seaport U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers Seize Shipment of Machineguns"

On Feb. 8, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Tacoma Seaport seized a shipment of 30 machineguns (M-4 automatic rifles) that arrived in a 40-foot ocean container on Oct. 20, 2009.

The shipment, shipped from a manufacturer in Taiwan, manifested only as "Toys and Parts" and was valued at nearly $10,000. CBP officers targeted the merchandise for an intensive examination and upon physical inspection of the container, found the rifles. The rifles were of the same size, weight and look of an M-4 automatic rifle - the weapon used by the United States military.

8. "Laredo Border Patrol Agents Discover Abandoned Bengal Tiger"

The agents saw an object that resembled a large bundle wrapped in a blue sheet. As they approached, they heard a growling sound and realized it was coming from the object. When they got closer to the bundle they realized it was a cage with an animal inside. Upon further investigation, they realized it was an abandoned Bengal tiger cub approximately four to six months old.

One crafty smuggler tried to sneak through the Arizona sewer system
One crafty smuggler tried to sneak through the Arizona sewer system
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

7. "Border Patrol Agents Seize Scuba Gear, Marijuana in Sewer System"

As agents got closer to a sewer exit in the area, they observed an individual wearing a wet suit wading through waist-high water with the bundles. When the individual saw the agents, he abandoned the bundles, his scuba tank and mask, and began wading through the sewer toward Mexico.

6. "Los Angeles CBP Seizes More than $18 Million in Counterfeit Sunglasses"

For the Weekly's ZZ-Top-inspired coverage of this particular seizure, see: "'Tis The Season For Cheap (Fake) Sunglasses In L.A."

CBP officials seized a total 156,900 pairs of sunglasses in violation of Versace, Louis Vuitton, Dolce Gabbana, Lacoste, Coach, Emporio Armani and Bvlgary trademarks with a total domestic value of $151,564. The infringing merchandise was discovered on six different shipments during the period of March 13 to April 14.

5. "New 'First in the Nation' Pest Halted at LA/LB Seaport"

On August 24, agriculture specialists assigned to the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport discovered the live specimen while conducting an inspection of a shipment of perishable pineapples [from Costa Rica]. On August 26, entomologists from the United States Department of Agriculture identified the insect as Acrogonia nigriceps (Cicadellidae) and confirmed that the insect was a "First in the Nation", a new pest never seen before in the United States.

Any insects from the Cicadellidae family, commonly known as leafhoppers, are significant pests in agriculture. They can cause severe damage and decrease yields on numerous cash crops including, grapes, potatoes, soybean and corn.

It's a Together As One wonderland: 310 pounds of candy
It's a Together As One wonderland: 310 pounds of candy
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

4. "CBP U.S. Border Patrol Seizes More Than $9 Million Worth of Ecstasy"

U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Curlew Border Patrol station made a significant drug seizure totaling more than 310 pounds of the "designer" drug Ecstasy, with an estimated street value of $9,373,329.24.

Agents immediately responded to the location and made the initial discovery of two backpacks that had been carefully concealed in a remote wooded area. Upon opening the backpacks, agents discovered several plastic bags containing pills. The pills were identified as the drug known as Ecstasy. ... Within minutes of the initial seizure, a Border Patrol canine team that was also on scene discovered two additional backpacks containing a significant amount of Ecstasy pills as well.

3. "Laredo CBP Officers Seize $12.7 Million in Heroin"

The seizure occurred on Oct. 24, at Lincoln-Juarez Bridge when a CBP officer referred a 2001 Scania Irizar bus driven by a 41-year-old U.S. citizen from Arlington, Texas for a secondary examination. CBP officers conducted an intensive examination and discovered 100 packages containing a total of 127 pounds of brown heroin hidden within the bus roof. The heroin has an estimated street value of $12.7 million.

2. "Fourteen Persons Charged with Conspiracy to Smuggle $3.1 Million in Cash into Mexico"

Fourteen passengers aboard a tour bus - seven U.S. citizens and seven Mexican nationals - were arrested on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, by CBP officers at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry after an intensive inspection of the tour bus resulted in the discovery of 17 pieces of luggage - each containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. currency. In all 17 pieces of luggage, the cash was found wrapped in deflated air mattresses.

1. "Multi-Agency Task Force Uncovers Border Tunnel, Seizes 30 Tons of Marijuana"

The tunnel is described as a crawlspace-sized passageway, connecting an Otay Mesa warehouse in the 9000 block of Via de la Amistad with a similar building in Tijuana, Mexico. The tunnel is equipped with rail, lighting and ventilation systems. Based upon preliminary indications, authorities believe the passageway was probably completed very recently.

While conducting surveillance in the Otay Mesa area yesterday, Task Force agents observed suspicious activity involving a tractor trailer truck parked at the warehouse where the tunnel entrance was later discovered. After the truck left the location, agents kept it under surveillance, alerting the Border Patrol as it approached the traffic checkpoint in Temecula. At the traffic checkpoint, California Highway Patrol and Border Patrol agents stopped the vehicle. A subsequent search of the truck's trailer revealed 10 tons of marijuana packed in large cargo boxes. The vehicle's driver and passenger were taken into custody and will be prosecuted on federal drug smuggling charges.

Following the seizure, Tunnel Task Force agents obtained a federal search warrant for the Otay Mesa warehouse. When they entered the building Tuesday night they discovered a second cache of marijuana, weighing an estimated 15 tons, and the entrance to the cross-border tunnel. Task Force agents quickly alerted Mexican military personnel who quickly located the tunnel's other entrance at a warehouse in Tijuana. Inside that building, Mexican authorities recovered another four tons of marijuana, bringing the estimated street value of the marijuana seized in the case so far at approximately $29 million.

CBP agents didn't report finding any Nancy Botwins in the 600-yard tunnel to drugsville
CBP agents didn't report finding any Nancy Botwins in the 600-yard tunnel to drugsville
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Thanks for all your hard work, Customs. Here's to an even smugglier 2011!


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