Wacky seizures at the border - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Wacky seizures at the border

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Customs and Border Protection works with 40 other government agencies to make sure dangerous items don't make it into the U.S. Investigative reporter Jennifer Costa found out how it works at Vermont's busiest border crossing.

When most of us think about seizures at the border, drugs and weapons may come to mind. But we found out there are likely items in your car that will get you in trouble when you are crossing. A bear penis bone -- seized. Foreign caviar -- seized. A sea turtle shell -- seized. We got an exclusive loOK at some of the wacky stuff getting seized from you at the border.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: It's a tooth.

Theresa Helfrich: Yeah, form a sperm whale.

Helfrich is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Specialist in Highgate Springs. 

Reporter Jennifer Costa: They're sitting in the car with this coat, you actually take it from them?

Theresa Helfrich: Right. At the border we actually would detain that.

Its owner entered the U.S. a bit chillier after this Canadian-made lynx coat was confiscated. Furs from spotted cats are off limits in the United States.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: How many people are getting away with bringing in things they shouldn't?

Gregory Starr: That's really hard to tell.

Starr is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Port Director in Highgate Springs.  "We're actually quite friendly. Some people don't realize that," Starr said. His job is to protect America from all sorts of threats, and that includes what you're eating.

Reporter Jennifer Costa:  Are they surprised when you take their fruit?

Erica Racette: A lot of people are. They're like, 'It's just an orange. It's for my lunch.'

But check out what the microscope sees -- scale insects on that orange. A discovery agriculture specialist Erica Racette catches a couple times a week. She says an infestation of these tiny bugs has the potential to wipe out Florida's entire native citrus crop. "We stop the insects here before they travel and can actually affect our agriculture," she said.

Prohibited or restricted items may also include meats, veggies, plants, and seeds. Even some dietary supplements will get you in trouble. Like this one made from seal oil. It's banned under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. "This is a walrus tusk," Helfrich said.

Hunting trophies are tricky. Some require formal declaration. Others are illegal. Bear gallbladders, and other organs used in alternative medicine, fetch big bucks on the black market. "We've seen them smuggled inside of a bear," Helfrich said. "We've also seen people who have removed the paws and had no idea that that was not ok."

International souvenirs are tempting for tourists, but think before you buy. A traveler got busted trying to sneak this sea turtle shell into the U.S. "We don't want them to end up on this table. We also don't want the shop owner to replace that with another one," Helfrich said.

"It's best just to tell us what you have right up front," Starr said. To avoid embarrassing border blunders Starr says that when in doubt -- declare. It could save you from huge fines.

"A lot of people just don't know. The don't know the rules," Racette said.

So what happens to the seized stuff? Some is saved to train new border agents. Some is sent to Boston for testing, and in rare cases it is returned to the owner. The rest is destroyed. Our best advice -- know before you go. You can call always call ahead to Customs and Border Protection if you have questions about a particular item.

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