INDIANAPOLIS — When you think of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you might think of activity along the nation’s southern border. But 13 Investigates has learned CPB agents are very busy here in Indianapolis — and they are on pace for a record-breaking year.
CBP’s field office near the Indianapolis International Airport is home to an aggressive operation to find and seize illegal items transported through the city’s FedEx complex. It's a major hub for international shipping with millions of packages handled each year.
As FedEx planes arrive and depart with international packages, CBP agents screen shipping manifests to look for suspicious activity. Those that catch the attention of federal agents then receive additional attention as CBP inspects hundreds of thousands of packages shipped through Indianapolis every year.
“We can actually open packages up if we see anomalies. Our agents have gotten really good at knowing what to look for,” said Tim Hubbard, the chief CBP officer in Indianapolis.
In the past six months, Hubbard and other CBP agents seized nearly 1,500 illegal shipments coming through FedEx. Drug seizures have doubled at the Indy hub from a year ago, with agents finding hundreds of pounds of marijuana, Ketamine and illegal prescriptions tucked inside international shipments.
He said most of the drugs are headed to Europe, and where they are coming from might surprise you.
“It's Canada, it's France, it's Spain, some from Slovakia. The majority is not coming from Mexico,” Hubbard said.
Finding the drugs is the interesting part. CBP agents recently found batches of illegal narcotics packed inside a water filtration system, inside a muffler, and even inside small elephant statues.
“They do go to extreme lengths to try to hide narcotics,” Hubbard told 13News.
CBP agents have also seen a large increase in counterfeit items shipped through Indianapolis. This year alone, they've already seized 714 parcels of fake brand-name merchandise with a street value of more than $41 million.
The seizures include expensive NFL jerseys and designer shoes, handbags and jewelry.
Customs and Border Protection seizures in Indianapolis
“It's Louis Vuitton, Channel, Christian Dior, Nike, Adidas. It's the high-end stuff,” explained Hubbard. “We just look at it and we’re like, ‘This is fake.’ The way the handbag is made — it's not really leather — and the stitching, quality of work basically is how we know.”
Earlier this year, Indianapolis CBP agents also seized more than 1,200 counterfeit driver’s licenses for more than 20 states. They were headed to New York and Chicago from three separate shipments originating in Hong Kong.
The big increase in seizures coincides with a big increase in e-commerce and shipping since the start of the pandemic. Federal agents say criminals see that as an opportunity.
“There's just an abundance of packages coming into the United States, and they try to use that against us to conceal something,” Hubbard said. “But we're watching. We're doing what we can to protect the United States.”
Indianapolis’ FedEx hub is one of 328 ports of entry around the United States patrolled by CBP field agents.