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By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
U.S. Border Patrol agents are more than accustomed to apprehending human smugglers and their clients along the Arizona border with Mexico. However, a recent run in with a U.S. citizen trying to bring two Mexican nationals into the country illegally revealed some disturbing evidence. The smuggler was in possession of several fake FBI credentials and multiple pieces of equipment more appropriate for U.S. law enforcement officers.
Smuggler Had ‘Official’ Government License Plate
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, Fort Huachuca (Arizona) officials alerted the Border Patrol to the presence of a suspicious vehicle on September 17 near the town of Sierra Vista. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that when the agents arrived on the scene, they discovered a human smuggling attempt in progress. The agents stopped a 2017 Ford Fusion that was being driven by an American citizen from Nevada, with two unidentified male illegal immigrants from Mexico as passengers.
After the vehicle’s occupants were taken into custody, officials searched it, finding a BB-pistol that looked very similar to a real handgun. They also found at least four fake FBI identification documents bearing the photo and name of the vehicle’s driver, as well as assorted law enforcement equipment, including an apparently official government license plate, lights, and radios.
Fake ID Propagation is Popular
The creation of fraudulent U.S. law enforcement identification and equipment is something of a cottage industry in Mexico. While more common among drug cartel members, smugglers have copied everything from badges and uniforms to Border Patrol and other law enforcement agency vehicles. Members of cartel enforcement teams have worn Arizona police tactical team uniforms to assassinate targets in Phoenix. Drug smugglers have cloned American petroleum company vehicles to bring large packages of marijuana through oil fields in South Texas.
Obtaining fake law enforcement credentials that look real isn’t particularly difficult. In March 2016, Vice News published a story about a 34-year-old Romanian national named Roberto Craciunica, believed to be living in Germany, who has claimed to make theatrical props for major Hollywood movies. U.S. prosecutors accused Craciunica of selling forged versions of badges carried by officers from a host of U.S. federal agencies through a series of web sites, including www.badge-police.com and www.master-equipment.org, managed by a company called Master Equipment. (Federal authorities have since seized the domain names.) The indictment says Craciunica conspired from January 2010 to September 2015 to traffic badges replicating those worn by the personnel of such entities as the CIA, the FBI, the Marshals Service, and the DEA.
Mexican endeavors to clone vehicles to be used in smuggling operations aren’t just limited to law enforcement agencies. In 2012, A McMullen County, Texas police officer stopped a school bus labeled like it belonged to the Laredo Independent School District, according to Business Insider. The driver was apprehended after fleeing on foot. The modified interior contained mannequin heads resembling students and 2,772 pounds of marijuana. Other seized vehicles were capable of carrying tons of illegal drugs, like a fake Halliburton oil tanker and UPS 18-wheeler, according to CBS News. While these IDs, badges, and vehicles may not foil the scrutiny of U.S. agents, a smuggler could certainly be convincing enough to fool casual bystanders who would otherwise report them to the police.