Task force combats smuggling at California twin ports

| 12/29/2008

The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently became the first U.S. ports to deploy a multi-agency task force aimed to target smuggling at U.S. borders.

The country’s first seaport BEST, or Border Enforcement Security Task Forces, is composed of officers from nine federal, state and local agencies. The group will target drug, alien, currency and weapons smuggling, trade fraud and cargo theft.

Announced in early December, the BEST group at the Port of L.A./Long Beach has been at work since at least early November, when agents discovered 140 pounds of cocaine hidden inside concrete cylinders being shipped from Mexico through the port to Australia. Also in November, the L.A. BEST team intercepted two large caches of weapons, including a grenade launcher, assault rifles and a sawed-off rifle that were headed to Mexico.

“The BESTs along the northern and southern border have had major impact on smuggling and other criminal activity in those locations, and we expect comparable benefits in Los Angles,” said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. “Since seaports are a tempting target of opportunity for criminal organizations seeking to improve dangerous contraband, the expansion of BEST to the maritime arena is the logical next step for this highly successful strategy.”

Counterfeiting has grown significantly in recent years. In fact, in fiscal year 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized about $200 million in counterfeit or pirated merchandise, a 27 percent increase from 2006.

In mid-December, ICE agents seized 13,000 counterfeit goods, including fake Coach, Gucci and Nike products worth an estimated $250,000 from China imported into the U.S. in Atlanta.

Also seized in the Atlanta raid were a van and a box truck purchased with proceeds from the sale of counterfeit goods.

In early December, ICE agents seized an estimated $542,310 worth of counterfeit goods, including fake Nike, Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren products.

ICE, along with the Department of Homeland Security partner CBP, made nearly 14,000 seizures during the last fiscal year.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer