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LAX passenger arriving from Iran hid opium in rice cooker, feds say

June 22, 2012 |  3:07 pm


A rice cooker and jar seized from an airline passenger arriving from Iran contained an unexpected surprise: $110,000 worth of opium, federal authorities said.

Eagled-eyed U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Los Angeles International Airport spotted  opium concealed in the rice cooker wrapped in foil.  A subsequent search of Sam Saeed Shariat's luggage yielded a jar of opium and more than 1,900 methadone, alprazolam and Valium pills, customs officials said.

Shariat, 63, a U.S. resident, was arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling after authorities discovered the drugs in his suitcase Wednesday.

"Smugglers who attempt to fool [customs] officers with clever concealment methods fool themselves," said Todd C. Owen, Customs and Border Protection director of field operations in Los Angeles. “Our officers have extensive, ongoing training and very keen instincts for detecting unique concealment techniques.”

Shariat arrived from Iran via Turkey. During a routine baggage inspection, officers found a box with a rice cooker next to a bag of fresh garlic.

The rice cooker initially appeared empty. However, when officers turned it upside down, aluminum foil was visible through the spaces underneath. After dismantling the cooker, officers found 3 pounds of black opium coated with cinnamon and wrapped in cellophane.

Inside the same gray hard-sided suitcase, officers also found a glass jar with a dark jelly-like substance and 2.3 pounds of opium concealed inside, officials said.


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-- Richard Winton

Photo: A rice cooker and jar seized from an airline passenger arriving from Iran contained $110,000 worth of opium. Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection