Phony championship rings, fake N95 masks: What Customs agents are seizing at O'Hare
Between the phony Super Bowl rings headed to Aurora, knockoff Apple watches on their way to Peru and a half-million fake N95 masks going to the East Coast, it's been a busy month at O'Hare International Airport for federal customs agents.
Those three seizures -- amounting to nearly $775,000 in counterfeit goods -- are some of the estimated $1.5 billion in bogus items U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize in a given year, authorities say.
And with about 20% of all international mail coming into the United States passing through O'Hare's processing facility, many of those seizures are taking place close to home.
"We're working day in, day out on these," Steve Bansbach, public information officer for CBP's Chicago field office, told us this week.
A big seizure announced late last month likely saved suburban sports memorabilia collectors some major disappointment, not to mention thousands of dollars.
Customs officers seized a shipment from Shanghai, China, and opened it to discover 62 sports championship rings that an expert later determined to be counterfeit. The collection included four Cubs World Series rings, two Bulls NBA Championship rings and 37 Super Bowl rings from three teams. Agents also found rings purportedly belonging to NBA stars Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
According to Customs, the rings -- if real -- would have been worth $93,600. They were destined for an undisclosed store in Aurora.
Bansbach told us there have been no charges brought in connection with the bogus rings, but the matter remains under investigation.
"Shipments like these prey on the many sports fans across the nation who may be duped into paying high prices for garbage," Shane Campbell, director for CBP in Chicago, said in an announcement of the seizure.
Federal customs officers in Chicago seized 500,000 counterfeit N95 masks this month. The masks arrived from China and were being shipped to New Jersey.
- Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Masks and more
While that seizure saved some sports collectors from a bad investment, another case announced this week could have led to far more serious consequences.
A shipment from Schenzhen, China, seized Sept. 10 contained a purported 500,000 N95 respirator masks, crucial to helping stop the spread of COVID-19. Customs agents sent 30 to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing facility in West Virginia, where the CDC concluded at least some of the masks didn't qualify for the N95 designation.
The masks -- valued at as much as $3 million because of the high demand for PPE -- were turned over to Homeland Security for further investigation.
"These masks did not meet the safety standards outlined by the CDC, which puts the public at risk, jeopardizing the health and well-being of everyone," Campbell said.
A day after the mask seizure, CBP officers inspected seven boxes being shipped from Hong Kong and found 423 Apple watches and 200 Apple AirPod earphones later determined to be bogus. Had they passed through and been sold retail, they would have been worth more than $200,000, officials said.
Homicide on the rise
We're only halfway through September, but we've already seen more homicides in Cook County this year than in all of 2019, according to a report issued by the medical examiner's office Tuesday.
The ME's office has confirmed 677 homicides this year, surpassing last year's 675 with more than three months left in the year. At this point last year, the county had seen 487 homicides. Now it's on pace to exceed 900 homicides, the most since 2016.
According to the medical examiner, Chicago accounts for most of this year's homicides, with 565 inside city limits. People of color made up 95% of the victims, and about 86% of this year's homicides were gun-related.
The surge does not appear to have made its way to the Northwest suburbs, however. According to medical examiner's data, there have been nine homicides in Northwest suburban Cook County this year, the same as at this time in 2019. There were eight in mid-September 2018 and seven at this time in 2017, according to county statistics.
Although the spike in killings is occurring in Chicago, Arlington Heights Police Chief Nicholas Pecora said he stays mindful of what's happening there.
"You always ask 'What if? How would my department handle it?,'" he said. "That's how you stay ahead."
Lake County lifesavers
A pair of Lake County Sheriff's correctional officers are being hailed as heroes for actions they took Sunday to rescue an inmate intent on taking his own life.
According to the sheriff's office, Officers Elvis Fejzic and Mathew Outinen were conducting rounds about 3 p.m. when they discovered a 20-year-old inmate who had tied a torn shirt around his neck. The officers quickly opened the inmate's door, cut the shirt off his neck and administered first-aid.
The inmate later was transported to Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan, where he has since recovered, officials said.
"Our correctional officers are trained to never hesitate in providing first-aid and calling for an ambulance for any inmate who is in physical distress," Sheriff John Idleburg said.
If your commute to work or drive to the grocery store passes over railroad tracks, don't be surprised if you come across law enforcement officers at those crossings next week.
Beginning Monday, police across the suburbs will take part in "Operation Clear Track," the largest annual rail-safety initiative in North America.
Held in conjunction with Rail Safety Week, the program will put police officers near rail crossings, where they'll hand out educational materials to drivers and pedestrians.
Officials say more 2,100 people in the U.S. and Canada are killed or injured in rail accidents every year. For more info about Rail Safety Week and Operation Clear Track, visit www.oli.org.
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