JFK Mail Facility tries to foil fentanyl smugglers trying new tricks

QUEENS, N.Y. — More than 800,000 packages pass through the JFK Mail Facility on any given day. Some of them are carrying death inside their sealed envelopes.

“The shipments of fentanyl we’re finding are going to every part of the United States,” said Francis Russo of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who serves as Port Director of John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the facility is located.

“The fentanyl goes to Florida, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, New Jersey, you name it.”

PIX11 has done extensive reporting on fentanyl, which is a man-made opioid that is cheaply produced and often mixed in with heroin to create more product—and profits.

Since 2015, fentanyl has been connected to the skyrocketing rates of fatal overdoses in the U.S.

It used to be shipped directly from China or Hong Kong to Mexico, but now the traffickers are changing their tactics.

“This package came from the Netherlands,” said one officer, “I believe that we’re witnessing ‘transshipment.’”

Transshipment means a product is mailed from one nation to another, before it’s sent to its intended destination.

“It’s really getting mailed in smaller packages now,” said Russo of the fentanyl.

“The drug organizations realize if they send smaller shipments, there’s a better chance of it getting through.”

The canine unit of Customs and Border Protection, led by Deputy Chief Michael Lake, had its first dogs trained for fentanyl detection last July.

Jack, the German Shepherd, has a great track record.

“He’s never had a ‘false positive,’” said Deputy Chief Lake.

Jack’s handler, K-9 Officer Chris Avila, rewards the dog by wrestling with him, using a PVC pipe.

There have been 212 fentanyl seizures so far this year in the mail facility, with dogs accounting for about 25 of them.

Officer Tom Pagano discovered other suspicious packages through the use of lasers that can detect fentanyl.

“The laser will identify the chemical inside the package like a fingerprint,” Pagano said.

“Just like every human being has a unique fingerprint, every chemical has a unique fingerprint.”