I am sharing this story with readers of my customs law blog as it dovetails well with guidance recently provided to customs about customs liability for internet purchases. Although the seizures in questions below are certainly more of an intentional variety, but are nevertheless instructive because the parcel inspection and seizure process by customs is the same whether the goods are prohibited, restricted, or if there are mistakes made in the import process. In other words, importing steroids or illict street drugs is dramatically different from importing something that you are unaware is not properly marked with country of origin, or for which the shipper provided a incorrect value on the commercial invoice used during the customs declaration process.
On to the story from customs:
PHILADELPHIA – One of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s lesser known enforcement priorities is examining incoming international parcels to hunt for a wide variety of prohibited and illicit products, such as weapons, narcotics, currency, insects and food. Hunting was good this past week.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the international express courier facility near Philadelphia International Airport recorded six khat seizures totaling about 150 pounds, 140 tablets that contained codeine, and 16 vials of steroids.
The parcels were destined to Everett, Mass., Riverwoods, Skokie and West Dundee in Illinois, Minneapolis and Rochester in Minnesota, and Cromwell, Conn.
“We know that U.S. consumers will attempt to purchase products they know to be illicit or illegal from overseas sources through the internet. Our best advice to them is caveat emptor, buyer beware,” said Tarance Drafts, acting CBP Port Director for the Port of Philadelphia. “Inspecting international parcels for dangerous and illicit products remains a Customs and Border Protection enforcement priority. There’s a great chance we’ll get our hands on your purchase before you do.”
The seizures started February 27 when CBP officers intercepted a parcel manifested as “Adidas junior bags” destined for Cromwell, Conn. Officers x-rayed the parcel and detected an anomaly that proved to be 24 pounds, 4 ounces of khat.
CBP officers then made two khat seizures Wednesday, one weighed 22 pounds, 3 ounces and was in a parcel manifested as “document procedures” destined for Skokie, Ill. The second parcel, manifested as “reports,” contained 15 pounds, 14 ounces of khat destined for West Dundee, Ill.
CBP officers also seized the codeine tablets Wednesday in a parcel manifested as “samples” destined for Rochester, Minn. The tablets were a product identified as Solpadeine, which is an over the counter product in Europe, but the codeine makes it a Schedule III drug in the U.S.
Thursday seemed like Groundhog Day, as CBP officers made two additional khat seizures. The first, 23 pounds, 9 ounces, was in a parcel manifested as “mobile phone accessories” and destined for Minneapolis. The second, 16 pounds, 12 ounces, was in a parcel manifested as “project development group report” and destined for Skokie, Ill.
The final parcel Thursday contained 10 vials of 10 ml each of Decatest 350 and six vials of 10 ml each of Megabol 275. The parcel was manifested as “Non Documents Amino Methyl Propanal” and destined for Everett, Mass.
In the largest seizure this week, CBP officers seized 46 pounds, 15 ounces of khat today that arrived in a parcel manifested as “Decorative Artistic Handicrafts” and destined for Riverwoods, Ill.
The 150 combined pounds of khat has a street value of about $45,000.
Khat is a green, leafy plant typically grown in the Arabian Peninsula and chewed for its stimulant effect.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies khat as a schedule 1 narcotic – the most restrictive category used by the DEA – when the leaves are freshly picked. Its principal components, cathine and cathinone, are considered controlled substances in the United States. Please see the DEA Khat Fact Sheet.
The World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse in 1980. It is chewed for its stimulant effect and retains its potency for up to 48 hours after being harvested.
CBP routinely conducts random inspections operations on passengers and air cargo searching for narcotics, currency, weapons and other prohibited or illicit products as part of its border security mission.
The individuals to who these seized shipments were destined will receive a notice of seizure from customs explaining the reasons for the seizure; they will then be asked to respond to the notice of seizure by affirmatively abandoning the property, petition for its return, and a few other choices. No matter how the notice of seizure is responded to, it’s possible that in addition to criminal charges, those connected with the importation of these items will also be facing a civil penalty for the unlawful importation.
If you have had merchandise or money seized by customs call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. Once your merchandise is seized, Customs may issue a penalty for the violation of law itself. If you have received a notice of penalty from U.S. Customs call our office immediately to discuss the possibility of filing a petition to reduce the penalty amount. We are able to assist petitions and in seizures by customs nationwide, including Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles.