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CNS--A multi-agency task force will be set up at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach modeled after operations that target smuggling and other criminal activity along the nation's borders, federal officials announced. The task force will use the features of the successful Border Enforcement Security Task Forces--known as BEST--and will be the nation's first "seaport BEST" operation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The enforcement effort includes officers from nine federal, state, and local agencies, and is the 11th such task force nationwide, according to ICE.
It will be responsible for detecting and investigating various maritime- related crimes, such as drug, alien, currency and weapons smuggling, along with trade fraud and cargo theft. Agencies participating in the L.A. BEST include ICE, Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Air Marshal Service, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Port Police and the California Highway Patrol. L.A. BEST officers will collaborate on investigations to identify and dismantle criminal organizations, officials said.
At a news conference December 4 at the Port of Los Angeles, representatives from the participating agencies underscored the benefits of the multi-agency enforcement strategy.
"BEST operations along the northern and southern border have had a major impact on smuggling and other criminal activity in those locations and we expect comparable benefits in Los Angeles," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles.
"Since seaports are a tempting target of opportunity for criminal organizations seeking to move dangerous contraband, the expansion of BEST to the maritime arena is the logical next step for this highly successful strategy," Schoch said.
While the nation's first seaport BEST began preliminary operations less than five weeks ago, the unit has already carried out several significant enforcement actions, including sizeable seizures of illegal drugs, firearms and counterfeit goods, Schoch said. Last month, CBP officers discovered more than 140 pounds of cocaine concealed inside concrete cylinders being shipped from Mexico through the Port of Los Angeles to Australia. Investigators estimate the drug would have sold for as much as $16 million on the streets of Australia. Last month, three Mexican nationals were arrested in Australia and charged with drug trafficking. Australian authorities said the probe disrupted a major international drug-trafficking ring.
Also last month, L.A. BEST officers intercepted two large caches of weapons investigators determined were destined for Mexico. More than 50 weapons were seized, including a grenade launcher, nearly a dozen assault rifles and a sawed- off rifle. Three suspects were arrested.
In the maritime arena, L.A. BEST officers' routine enforcement activities include conducting onboard inspections of "high interest" vessels coming into the port. L.A. BEST officers also follow up on leads involving suspicious inbound or outbound cargo shipments. The Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex is the busiest port complex in the United States based= upon overall cargo volume, handling nearly 500,000 containers a month. Together, the two ports handle more than 40 percent of the commodities entering the nation's commerce system.