Associated Press – Something about the dozens of individually wrapped chocolate bars in the luggage of a man flying from California to Japan struck a federal Customs and Border Protection officer as odd. Sure enough, when unwrapped, they turned out to be more than 4 pounds of methamphetamine covered by a "chocolate-like substance."
That bust at Los Angeles International Airport in July 2012 was one of tens of thousands of drug seizures made by customs agents each year at the nation's airports, including many where drugs were hidden inside food.
Customs officers stopping travelers coming and going from the United States have found drugs disguised as cream filling in cookies, in bags of coffee, bottles of rum, and stuffed inside bricks of frozen meat, among other places.
"Drug smugglers, mules, what have you, they use various consumer methods. Depending on how much experience they've had, (officers have) probably seen every consumer method under the sun," said Anthony Bucci, the public affairs specialist for Customs and Border Protection's New York regional office.
Customs officials made 153,000 drug seizures from people trying to enter or leave the country between the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years in the top five ports of entry alone, according to the agency.
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Officers in the New York region — including Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports — made more than 72,000 stops over the five-year span, and Chicago had more than 36,000.
Here are some of the highlights:
CHOCOLATE BAR METH
Customs officials said a California man tried to smuggle more than 4 pounds of methamphetamine out of the country disguised as 45 individually wrapped chocolate bars in July 2012 at Los Angeles International Airport. Customs officers became suspicious after seeing the candy bars inside the man's checked luggage and opened the bars to find a white substance covered by a "chocolate-like substance." Officials said the drugs would have sold for as much as $250,000 in Japan, where the man was headed.
COCAINE IN WAFERS
A Guatemalan citizen arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston from Guatemala City in April with packages of vanilla wafers. But when customs officials opened them up, they said they found they were filled with cocaine instead of cream filling. He also had bags of chips that had small bundles of cocaine inside of them. The 4 pounds of cocaine had a street value of more than $60,000.
HEROIN IN COFFEE
Three bags of roasted, ground coffee arriving at Miami International Airport in a package from Guatemala in October were actually filled with more than 3 pounds of heroin, customs officials said. Customs officials said they noticed anomalies during an X-ray and felt that the weight of the three bags was different from that of others in the shipment.
OPIUM IN A RICE COOKER
Customs officials found a rice cooker stuffed with 3 pounds' worth of black opium, which had been coated in cinnamon and wrapped in plastic, being transported by a man arriving at Los Angeles International Airport from Iran in June 2012.They also found a glass jar with a dark jelly-like substance in a suitcase that turned out to be opium. Officials said the opium had a street value of about $110,000.
CREAM AND CUSTARD COCAINE
A woman arriving at Kennedy International Airport in New York in November 2014 from Guyana was found with six bags of milk and custard powder that was filled with cocaine. Customs officials said they found 13 pounds of cocaine in her luggage, with an estimated street value of $230,000.
LIQUID COCAINE IN RUM
A man arriving from Guyana at Kennedy International Airport in New York in December 2014 was found to be carrying four bottles of rum that customs officials said were filled with 18 pounds worth of liquid cocaine. The drugs had a street value of $310,000.
COCAINE PASTE IN SYRUP
A mother and daughter traveling from Spain were carrying plastic packets of chocolate syrup and salad dressing that customs officials at LAX decided felt unusually thick in February 2012. They opened it up to find a plastic bag with cocaine paste placed inside, and then found another syrup packet in their checked-in luggage that contained more cocaine paste. Customs officials said they confiscated more than 10 pounds of the paste, a gummy substance that is extracted from coca leaves and then dried and turned into the white powder sold on the street.
COCAINE IN FROZEN MEAT
A man arrived at Kennedy International Airport from Trinidad with three large packages of frozen meat in his suitcase. Customs officials took a closer look and said they found more than 7 pounds of powder cocaine inside.
NEWARK COCAINE FOOD PRODUCTS
A U.S. citizen arriving from Peru at Newark Liberty International Airport in October had an assortment of food in his luggage that customs officials found also included 10 pounds of cocaine. Customs officials found a package of cocaine stuffed inside a nougat cake, and scattered throughout various other food and drink items.