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Markets in Transition - CSI Supply Chain: Pallets on the Wrong Side of the Law
Columnist Rick LeBlanc explores the recent barrage of criminal cases where pallets have been used for smuggling including a case where a Minnesota pallet recycler found a pallet on his yard contained illegal drugs.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 10/1/2012
For those in the pallet industry, it goes without saying that the role of pallets is very much like the tagline you see stenciled on the doors of police cars in various jurisdictions – “to serve and protect.” The role of pallets is to efficiently move loads through the supply chain and to protect the goods that rest upon them from harm. Pallets are the good guys. Right?
Apparently, this is not always the case. To be sure, pallets have been implicated in criminal activities in the past. For example, several years ago, I reported on a jailbreak that involved an inmate hollowing out some stacks of pallets so that he could escape with a truckload of stacked empties. (http://www.palletenterprise.com/articledatabase/view.asp?articleID=912). This unfortunately was small change in comparison to increasingly frequent news coverage that is now identifying pallets as “mules” or unwitting carriers of drugs. Such reports have little to do with the pallet industry or for pallet businesses, or do they?
Let’s take a look at some of the recent storylines.
Bales of marijuana were discovered in palletized bins of watermelon being shipped from McAllen, Texas to a warehouse in Houston, Texas, where they would be redistributed. On one load, agents discovered 84 bales of marijuana inside, while an additional search of the receiving warehouse resulted in the seizure of an additional 53 bales, weighing in at 3,158 pounds. In this case, the drugs were concealed within the unit load, but not inside of the pallet itself.
While conducting a secondary examination of a marine container, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers found drugs in a shipment of food products originating from Guyana, South America, destined for Mississauga, Ontario. Using X-ray technology, border service officers detected anomalies within wooden pallets in the shipment. A total of 267 pounds of cocaine was discovered in flat plastic bags inside of wooden pallets. The deckboards had been hollowed with a router so that the cocaine bags could be placed in the void. The smugglers had then placed another thin layer of wood on top to encase the drugs. (See the photo above, courtesy of CBSA.)
CBSA officers once again discovered cocaine hidden inside of hollowed out deckboards on another shipment of food products from Guyana and destined for North York, Ontario. Using the same secondary examination tools, CBSA officers found another 108 lbs. of the drug.
A group of jailed UK drug dealers was ordered to pay £800,000 in order to avoid extra time in the slammer. Back in 2006, they were discovered to have been shipping quad bikes on pallets from the Netherlands that were modified to hold heroin within. Two of the criminals remained at large until 2010.
So far this story doesn’t have much to do with the pallet industry, but also in August, one Minnesota pallet recycler received an eye-opener when a pallet hit the ground and broke. While moving a stack of cores with a forklift, a pallet happened to fall off of a stack. When it struck the ground, a board broke apart, spilling out a white powder. The police were called, and discovered once again the same pattern of hollowed out deck boards with thin bags of cocaine concealed within. The street value of the cocaine was estimated in the $400,000 to $700,000 range. Curiously, the pallet had no markings on it, and as well there are no markings visible in the photos of the pallets seized by the Canadian officials. It is curious to me that smugglers would try to import wood pallets without an ISPM-15 stamp.
There are a number of potentially humorous angles that come out of this story, for example, that the smugglers should learn about ISPM-15 if they want to ship pallets internationally, or that they might want to consider an alternative material pallet that is ISPM-15 exempt. And of course for that stray pallet that ended up at the recycling plant, the smugglers might have benefited from a pallet tracking solution to aid in management so those pallets don’t get lost. Of course, with the way wood pallets have been ridiculously maligned by the media in the past, it is surprising that reporters have not blamed the pallet for society’s drug problems. For issues ranging from plant fires to landfill overload to Tylenol odor to food safety, the mainstream press likes to make pallets one of its whipping boys.
On a more serious note, there are a couple of concerns that I do have. One of these is that wooden pallets could be viewed negatively by customers because of their association with the smuggling activity. Fortunately, this has not happened. And to be fair, why should it. Pallets are not to blame.
I found another story about cocaine being smuggled inside of hollowed pineapples, and I doubt if the piña colada sector is losing much sleep over it. Pallets are just one of the many possible mules used by drug dealers. And increasingly, customs officials are introducing sophisticated scanning equipment to help stop the movement of contraband.
The other concern is the remote possibility of drug laden pallets entering your recycling facility. While the likelihood this would occur is slim to none, it did happen for one Minnesota recycler. It is something that you should be aware of and know how to respond. Beyond the challenges posed by the legal situation surrounding drugs, it could also mean an incident with an organized criminal element.
Pallets are here in the supply chain to serve and protect, but if you see the white powder spilling out, call the police.