The Investigators: Attack of the Clones - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Janice Broach

The Investigators: Attack of the Clones

You can sometimes find Sgt. Marty Tartera of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department parked on the side of the interstate.

"There's no doubt in my mind that drugs and currency from drugs flow up and down the highway everyday," he said in a recent interview.

Tartera commonly targets drivers smuggling drugs.  Less than 30 minutes into our ride-along interview with him, a bust was made.  Suspicious officers pulled over a bus out of El Paso, Texas loaded with passengers.  A drug sniffing dog quickly found a children's suitcase, loaded with pot.  The drugs were covered in coffee grounds and a layer of plastic in an effort to fool the dog.

Deputies say most of the drugs they intercept come from Mexico. An Action News 5 investigation uncovered the great lengths some smugglers go to fool law enforcement.

According to Captain Donals Oaks of the West Memphis Police Department, officers often employ the use of deceptively marked vehicles.

"They're hiding narcotics in vehicles that look like standard commercial vehicles," Oaks said.

Photos meant only for law enforcement, but shared with Action News 5 show picture after picture of such vehicles, dubbed clones.

Often, it is difficult to differentiate a cloned vehicle from a real one.

"Some of the better ones can really go for a while without being noticed," Oaks said.

Sometimes smugglers follow natural disasters, like storms that wipe out electricity and cables lines. Often it is easier for smugglers to move around unnoticed in cloned utility trucks.
"Say there's a big rush for a job, say in Atlanta.  You may see a lot of trucks stream through to Atlanta for that job.  And so, what better cover than to take a truck and dress it up like a Comcast Cable truck, put your drugs in it, and try to ship it through?" Oaks asked.

Some clones stick out more than others.  One picture shows a fake SBC telephone truck with a wall of drugs inside.  The company doesn't even exist anymore- it's now AT&T.

Sometimes, Oaks said, drug runners are just sloppy.

"You've seen the decals like 'call 1-800-whatever the slogan is." Well, his slogan had one too many characters in it," he said.

You probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between most of the clones and the real thing, which is why companies like FedEx are fed up.

"It's very disturbing because its taking our good name and reputation and using it for illegal purposes, and we do not tolerate that," a FedEx spokesperson said.

"The trucks are a mainstay," Oaks said. "There's so much area to hide things."

Click here to send an email to Janice Broach.
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