Close, But No Cigar, For Area Residents Who Ordered Cubans Online

Send Your Tips To Dave Savini

CHICAGO (CBS) — Millions of dollars in online purchases have been seized by federal agents and will soon be destroyed. 

Boxes of illegal Cuban cigars – Cohiba, Bolivar, Romeo y Julieta, among other brands — have been discovered on planes at O’Hare International Airport.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding Reports

CBS 2’s Dave Savini took a tour of the confiscated goods with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Bell, who says the quantity of contraband has never been bigger.

“I have never, ever seen anything like this in my career,” said Bell. 

He says officers would typically seize about 10 boxes a week from airline passenger planes. However, during the last two weeks of November, customs agents in Chicago seized more than 100,000 illegal cigars worth millions of dollars. Extra patrols of federal officers had to be assigned to keep up with the contraband.

Bell says it’s a direct result of a terrorism crackdown. 

In November, printer cartridges laced with explosives were found in the belly of an airplane bound for the U.S. from Yemen. Packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago. 

So, shipping rules were changed to protect passenger planes. Companies can no longer ship packages on them weighing more than 16 ounces aboard passenger planes. Heavier packages have to be shipped solely on cargo planes. 

Foreign cigar sellers that in the past would sneak in illegal cigars on hundreds of different passenger flights are now stuck shipping in bulk on cargo planes, making the packages easier to find.

The boxes of seized cigars were primarily shipped from Switzerland and were headed to buyers in Oak Brook, Naperville, Schaumberg, West Chicago and Flossmoor and other communities.  Many of these could have been bought for holiday gifts.

But those folks are now out of luck, says Bell. 

“These are going to be seized and then destroyed … incinerated,” he said.

Bell acknowledges that there are cigar lovers who may find this upsetting. 

“I’m sure there are, and I feel for them, but it is what it is,” he said.

Customs agents could have arrested the local buyers for violating the Trading With The Enemies Act, but officials say they have more important cases to worry about. Buyers are still being punished, though; they are out their money and cigars.

More from Lisa Fielding
  • JeanSC

    Watching this story, I couldn’t help thinking if there was some way to let the buyers at least receive the empty cigar boxes, or for the authorities to figure some way to recoup some of their expenses from the empty cigar boxes, which are pretty cool by themselves. When I was a kid, we treasured cigar boxes for their artistic merit and practical design for holding mostly desk-related items. They’re still useful.

  • Skorps

    We can now all sleep better at night! What a waste. They’re freaking cigars, and last I checked, the Cuban missile crisis ended 48 years ago.

    • Fred

      Perhaps we could tax them at a higher rate and use that money to recoup what was spent chasing cigars instead of “Terroist”

      • K.K.

        You’re an idiot. You’re the same idiot that would be on here complaining if a bomb made it through and wasn’t found by them. These people are doing a great job. The simple fact is the cigars are illegal and shouldn’t be ordered.

  • Jsmith7777

    I smell something coming from the Homeland Security offices at O’Hare. Must be a new kind of cigarette.

  • alegalsmoker

    they should be charged with treason

    • rf

      No the embargo should be lifted. AFAIK the U.S. is the only country in the world where you can’t legally buy Cuban cigars.

    • irritated

      Dave Savini strikes again!

  • Scalpel 10

    The illegal cigars should be auctioned, so the gov’t earn some money.
    Why waste a good cigar?

  • T5 Vet

    Yeah, CBP is doin a “great” job! During a war on terrorism, puny little Brian Bell and the rest of his idiots are wasting their time and our money on something so unimportant…Really? When will they turn their focus away from making EVERYONE’S life miserable, and focus on the REAL job at hand, protecting our borders from real dangers like actual terrorists, hard drug smugglers, people taking advantage of our system…Oh well, you know what they say about government employees, theyre not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

  • Tinley Park

    A willing seller, a willing buyer, the nanny state, and the inane incredulity of the journalist wnnabes at WBBM. Makes you proud to be an American.

  • Josh Y.

    Honestly, we still have a trade embargo with Cuba? (sarcasm) There is no need for that. Are they really a threat. I mean if that is the justification than why not have an embargo with Yemen since everytime I see them on the news they are trying to blow Americans and Jews up. Oh wait I forgot, Yemen has oil and American politicians in their pocket. The hippocracy knows no end.

  • Doug P.

    Employ a few people, advertise a bit, sell on eBay and give all the proceeds to the food pantry’s.

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