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Registered: 07/26/04
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750 pounds of cocaine hidden in fake fruit
    #4226177 - 05/27/05 01:30 PM (13 years, 30 days ago)

750 pounds of cocaine hidden in fake fruit
May 27 2005 - Sun Sentinel

Federal agents Thursday seized a shipment of 750 pounds of cocaine hidden in fake plantains mixed in a delivery of the real tropical fruit from Ecuador.

Sure, they looked like impeccable plantains and even felt like them. But agents said their glaring attractiveness were among some of the indicators that the green, ripe fruit, a member of the banana family and popular in Caribbean, Central and South American cuisine, actually were hundreds of small containers designed by crafty drug smugglers in the latest attempt to import cocaine.

Agents discovered the phony plantains at the port this month inside a shipping container filled with boxes of real plantains.

Each of the elaborate containers holds about half a pound of cocaine and as of Thursday afternoon, agents were still counting how much they intercepted. About a dozen, gloved agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection formed an assembly line inside a nondescript shed at the port and were seen breaking each of the real plantains in half in the search for more crooked fruits on Thursday.

Each of the "plantains" is worth up to $10,000 wholesale, and the entire illegal crop was worth at least $8 million, said the agency's special agent in charge, Keith Perniciaro.

Authorities acknowledged they have intercepted more considerable amounts of cocaine tucked inside other innocuous articles. However, they openly marveled on Thursday at the ingenuity employed by the smugglers.

"The amount of detail and sophistication that went into this is remarkable," said Perniciaro.

The nefarious designers wrapped the outside of the fiberglass container with a foamy material painted green. This made the "plantain" soft and mushy. Inside, the cocaine was packed in cellophane.

Agents said they have not made an arrest, but have developed significant leads. Officials at the two companies listed as distributors on the produce boxes could not be reached. The phone number at the Miami-based business was disconnected. The company in Ecuador provides only an e-mail address.

Agents declined to say where they think the shipment was headed.

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