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Snail Mail Smugglers Send Some Pretty Odd Things

DORAL (CBSMiami) – It's amazing what people send in the mail these days from other countries.

At the Customs and Border Protection International Mail Facility in Doral, inspectors have seized shipments of diseased and rotting pieces of meat, skeletal remains of endangered species, marijuana seeds, cocaine kilos and boxes of foreign prescription medication. On the day CBS4 News visited the facility, inspectors seized a package from Uruguay which contained skeletal remains of a baby shark's mouth.

"Sometimes they buy it as a trophy," said one CBP Inspector who asked not to be named. "Other times, they have it sent in to be used as part of a religious ritual."

According to the U.S. Postal Service it is against the law to send animal products, which is why the shark's jaw will be referred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for further investigation.

"You can't send anything that's an animal or animal parts," said CBP spokesperson Migdalia Travis.

Travis said inspectors have seized lots of meat products, which have often sat in the mail for days without refrigeration. Travis showed CBS4's Brian Andrews a package of Jamon Cerrano that was supposed to be mailed to a South Florida address from Central America.

"It could be tainted with all kinds of things, even foot and mouth disease," said Travis.

Supervisor Pedro Rivera has been with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for 27 years. His most recent assignment is as a Supervisor at the International Mail Facility.

"We're seeing a lot of marijuana seeds in the mail, in letters, coming from Canada," said Rivera.

The CBP stops marijuana seeds and other plant seeds that are considered a threat to US Agriculture. Recently, they've found seeds for flowers and fruits smuggled inside greeting cards and wrapped in toilet paper. Sometimes, the items found in the International Mail are a bit more substantial.

"Just yesterday we got a kilo of cocaine from the islands," said Supervisor Rivera. "It will be referred to our partners at Homeland Security Investigations where they may attempt a controlled delivery to see if arrests can be made."

From greeting cards, to packages of powder and even spools of string, 100-percent of the inbound international mail has to get a second look.

So why do people smuggle contraband by mail?

"It's probably the most economical way," said Rivera. "It's very seldom anyone gets caught because it's hard to trace. In foreign countries, you don't have to show ID when mailing a package and in some cases, they merely slip the parcel into a mail box with a bunch of stamps on it."

Rivera said the return addresses are almost always fake along with the name of the person the package is addressed to.

"They send it to an address here and then they have someone watching the mailbox, waiting for it to arrive," said Rivera.

The CBP's International Mail facility runs seven days a week and scans about 80,000 international parcels and packages each day. The search is done by X-Ray, radiation scanner, drug sniffing dogs and by hand.

"It seems like every other day there's a new trend being established," said Rivera. "When it's not counterfeit watches, it's cigarettes in the mail."

Many people may not know it but it's illegal to send cigarettes by mail.

CBP Inspectors said counterfeit and "grey market" smokes destined for international markets have become a big business in South Florida.

"In Europe, for example, a pack of cigarettes sells for about a dollar. Here in the United States, they can sell it for upwards of seven dollars," said Rivera.

CBP has also stopped box after box of prescription medication that came from other countries. While it may be legal in the country from where it's being sent, CBP said the medication formula may be different from the one approved for use in the United States by the FDA. Just because it's legal doesn't mean that it will meet US safety standards.

"We have an entire bin of pharmaceuticals to be sent to the FDA for testing," said Rivera. "While the bottle may say one thing, we won't know what it really is until it is tested."

New smuggled items are discovered each day at the International Mail facility and so are new scams.

CBP said the latest method of deception involved fraudulent electronic postage. Postage that's purchased online can be photo-shopped or manipulated to change the name of the sender and received.

"Now they're taking a dollar's worth of postage often purchased with a stolen credit card, and turning it into $15 worth of postage," said Rivera.

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