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Package police catch illegal drugs, fake luxury watches 90 miles from Milwaukee

Posted at 10:21 AM, Nov 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-20 13:22:10-05

Just a short walk from the gates at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is a secure US Postal Service facility where they process packages from around the globe.

The outpost just 90 miles south of Chicago is one of only six of its kind in the country.

Customs and Border Protection officer Francis Byrne is one of the people tasked with checking thousands of packages a day.

"Everything that comes into the country has to be inspected," Byrne said.

Byrne and the team in Chicago inspects more than 12 million packages a year.

Machines make sure radioactive material is not smuggled through the mail, but other items are caught only by an X-ray machine and search by hand.

"We get live animals sometimes, turtles, fish, salamanders. When something's moving in the box that always gets your attention," he said.

If officers think any package just does not look right they have the power to take it off the line and have a look inside.

Byrne demonstrated on a box that appeared to hold three bottles of lotion. But an X-ray image showed something else inside the containers.

"These are in a liquid bottle so you would expect it to be more consistent. Here there are a lot of lumps," he said, describing the X-ray.

It's an image suspicious enough to warrant a look inside.

With one of the lotion containers cut open, Byrne pulled out a small plastic bag full of white pills.

Something this veteran officer has seen before.

"Usually in this type of package we'll get steroids," he said.

Another package is supposed to contain chopsticks. Byrne does find chopsticks, but also something hidden underneath the box's false bottom.

A compartment hiding realistic looking fake drivers licenses.

"When we pry it apart there's an envelope. And when we do that.. more fake IDs," he said.

Pills and fake IDs may not surprise you but this might: A bogus Lombardi Trophy.

In a place where finding odd objects in the mail is an everyday occurrence, the day they discovered the shiny silver trophy was like the Super Bowl.

"Oh everybody loved it. They all took pictures of it with ourselves," Byrne said.

US Customs and Border Protection confiscated it, just like they do with everything from counterfeit purses, to knockoff shoes, jerseys, and fake luxury watches.

Telling the real deal from a fake is easier than you might think.

Real luxury goods usually come with boxes and paperwork, not wrapped in plastic and stuffed 30 at a time into a cardboard box.

Sometimes, officers do open a package that is legit. That's when they tape it up and send it off on its way.

The fakes head to a warehouse and are eventually destroyed. The last stop for illegal items -- just an hour-and-a-half from Milwaukee.