ICE has opened an investigation into criminal cartels smuggling fake medical supplies across the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
ICE and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) are working together to seize the fraudulent merchandise and investigate their supply routes.
So far, $140,000 worth of medical supplies have been seized, including illegitimate COVID-19 test kits, anti-viral products and mislabeled face masks.
Heavily diluted clorox and hand sanitizers were also found.
These fake medical supplies, which do not have FDA approval, can be highly dangerous when used. At best, they do not offer any protection against the coronavirus. At worst, they can have actively harmful effects, severely damaging public health.
“It’s a tragedy that greedy, unscrupulous individuals would risk the health and lives of people to make a quick buck,” said Erik P. Breitzke, thee acting special agent at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) El Paso. “HSI and our law enforcement partners are working diligently to prevent these unauthorized and potentially unsafe products from entering the marketplace to ensure the safety of the American people.”
The CBP’s El Paso Field Director Hector Mancha added to Breitzke’s remarks.
“Stopping unapproved, diluted and potentially unsafe products before they reach the consumer can help save lives,” Mancha said.
“Those purchasing PPE, cleaning supplies and other products in attempt to protect themselves during the pandemic should only do so through trusted and established providers.”
The El Paso investigation is part of a larger project by ICE called Operation Stolen Promise, which seeks to investigate pandemic-related criminal activity. As part of this operation, 315 investigations have been opened nationally and over $3.2 million and 494 shipments of fraudulent medical supplies have been seized, including coronavirus test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic treatments, anti-virals and personal protective equipment.
As part of this effort, ICE has partnered with corporate giants Pfizer, 3M, Citi, Alibaba, Amazon and Merck.
“Scammers and other criminals are exploiting this time of anxiety and uncertainty to take advantage of consumers’ fears, and HSI has made it a top priority to investigate anyone attempting to use the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud other people,” said Alysa Erichs, the HSI Acting Executive Associate Director. “A robust partnership with the private sector is an absolute requirement to effectively disrupt and dismantle COVID-19 criminal networks and strengthen global supply-chain security.”
President Trump has called for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in order to restrict the smuggling of migrants, spies, drugs, bioweapons, exotic animals and counterfeit supplies across the Mexican border into the United States. Most of the smuggling operations in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez section of the border are controlled by the brutal Sinaloa Cartel, led by famed trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.