CHICAGO (CBS) — An explosion of illegal drugs and an increasing cache of counterfeits are flowing through one of the busiest mail facilities in the country, right here in Chicago.
CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey got an exclusive look at the loot, how they’re finding the fakes, and why the pandemic is fueling the surge.
K9 Detective Hans checks out the packages snaking their way down the conveyor belt at Chicago’s International Mail Facility, located at O’Hare International Airport.
Hans barks when he sniffs out something suspicious.
On this day, in just one 15-minute time period, we watched Hans find four packages with illegal drugs inside. Drugs like ecstasy and MDMA.
These drugs are coming from several different countries including China, Russia and the Netherlands.
A new tactic Customs and Border Patrol Agents are seeing is tucking the drugs inside shipments of face masks or other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Seizure records obtained by the CBS 2 Investigators highlight the issue that’s keeping Hans busy all day long.
Between March and August of last year, CBP agents in the Chicago Field Office seized more than 8,800 pounds of narcotics.
Between March and August of this year? That number exploded to more than 21,000 pounds.
That’s more than 10.5 tons – often one little baggie at a time.
Area Port Director Shane Campbell said the increase in drug shipments goes hand in hand with a surge in online purchases during the pandemic.
“Eighty percent of e-commerce traffic goes through the U.S. Postal system, so we’ve seen a huge increase in Chicago with e-commerce and folks ordering from home,” said Shane Campbell who is the Area Port Director with CBP in Chicago.
And people ordering from home are ordering everything – illegal or not.
Assistant Area Port Director Hans Leiterman showed Hickey a fake gun.
“That looks pretty real, right?” Leiterman said. “It doesn’t work, but it looks pretty real.”
Leiterman also showed Hickey a collection of intellectual property rights seizures, including counterfeit cash.
“It says ‘prop bills,’ but again you wash it in the water, dry it, it will look like a normal $100 bill,” explained Leiterman.
Everything CBP agents showed Hickey took them only one day to catch.
“Basically we started pulling stuff for this – what’s today? Wednesday? So Monday,” said Leiterman.
Among phonies found? Prescription drugs, designer drugs, designer brands like Nike and Cartier. You name it. But a new addition to 2020 seizures is pandemic products.
There were COVID 19 test cards, rapid kits, and detection kits in just a day’s worth of the phony COVID 19 products coming through Chicago’s International Mail Facility.
Campbell explained the risk of some of the fake tests for people who wittingly or unwittingly order them: “They have a false negative but they may or may not be actually positive. But they’re using a bad test in the hopes that it’s going to tell them what they want to hear.”
Overall, counterfeit seizures are up dramatically too.
The Chicago Field office seized more than $118 million worth of goods between January and August of last year.
This year? It’s up to more than $135 million.
Unfortunately, there’s no sniff test for fake COVID test or counterfeit PPE.
CBP has to rely on a system of radiation screening, x-ray screening and physical inspections. It’s been a grueling workflow during the pandemic.
And this team believes there’s no end in sight.
“I think it’s going to keep going up. We’ve seen e-commerce go up nationally,” said Campbell.
The Chicago Field Office receives about 57 million shipments every year. Campbell said the majority of counterfeits come from China.