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April 29, 2020Nogales, AZ, United StatesCOVID-19

ICE HSI Nogales seizes several hundred bottles of diluted cleaning products

NOGALES, Ariz. - In April 2020, special agents in Nogales with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers assigned to the Trade Enforcement Coordination Center (TECC) made multiple significant seizures of adulterated Clorox bleach shipments for violations of federal law relating to consumer product tampering. Preliminary testing revealed that the cleaning products were significantly diluted with water making them ineffective.

“This investigation serves as a stark reminder that criminals will even exploit a global pandemic in their quest for illegal profit,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge for HSI Phoenix. “While ongoing, this investigation has been successful in keeping hundreds of bottles of cleaning products, rendered useless by illicit tampering, out of our homes and businesses. HSI and our partnered agencies are committed to identifying and dismantling these schemes that pose a significant health and safety risk to U.S. consumers.”

In March and April 2020, CBP officers at the Port of Nogales Mariposa Crossing observed an increase of imported products in demand due to the current COVID-19 related shortages. Special agents began investigating how and where these products we attempting to make their way into the United States. Through investigative means, special agents discovered that several U.S. businesses have been importing Clorox, toilet paper, and other related items from distributors in Mexico. According to The Clorox Company, many household products manufactured in Mexico are not meant for U.S. domestic consumption. Those products authorized for importation have EPA compliant labels detailing ingredients, directions, warnings and uses.

Even with the company’s restrictions, to date the Nogales TECC has seized approximately 900 bottles of adulterated Clorox bleach.

Nogales TECC agents are coordinating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tucson to conduct this investigation and to determine who is responsible for the product tampering. This is an HSI-led investigation with collaboration from CBP.

As part of Operation Stolen Promise, HSI is partnering with CBP, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Working Group. Additionally, efforts span multiple HSI components including the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, HSI International Operations, the Illicit Finance and Proceeds of Crime Unit, and the Cyber Crimes Center.

As of April 23, 2020, HSI special agents have opened over 232 cases, made 376 total seizures, sent 329 leads, caused 70 disruptions, and seized over three million dollars in illicit proceeds; made six arrests; executed 12 search warrants; referred over 11,000 COVID-19 suspected fraudulent domain names for appropriate disruption action and worked alongside CBP to seize over 225 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment. The launch of the operation is in direct response to a significant increase in criminal activity.

HSI’s S.T.O.P. COVID-19 Fraud campaign is a key public outreach component of Operation Stolen Promise. The campaign relays critical information to the public related to COVID-19 fraud and criminal activity. The campaign provides facts, tips, and red flags and will guide the public on how to recognize potential fraud, protect themselves from it, and report it to authorities.

HSI encourages the public to report potential fraud to COVID19FRAUD@DHS.GOV.
Updated: 12/15/2020