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Drug traffickers' latest trick: "Clone" vehicles

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Courtesy: CBS news Courtesy: CBS news
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CBS NEWS- When Tucson Border Patrol agents seized a truck last week, the decals from the "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service" looked spot-on. But In its flatbed, they found marijuana, in bundles, worth $1.6 million, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner. It's what they call a "clone" or faked vehicle.

The story starts back in 2007, as a police officer in the little town of George West, Texas, attempted to pull over what looked like a Texas Department of Transportation or "Tex-Dot" truck.

To the casual observer, Officer Jorge Medina said it looked "just like a typical Tex-Dot truck, from the exempt plates to the stickers, the insignia."

But the license plate belonged to a school district, so Medina stopped it.

"As I walked up to the truck, they took off," Medina said.

He gave chase, until the driver lost control and the truck spun out.

"It had flipped over, and there's black bundles scattered all over," he said. In the bundles, was nearly a ton of marijuana.

Since then, law enforcement officials in south Texas, like Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor of Victoria County, have been on the lookout, and he's seen an impressive range of cloned vehicles.

"If you can think of it and name it, we have stopped it," O'Connor said.

Traffickers will seemingly fake any vehicle to transport their drugs; a cloned AT&T service truck, a UPS semi-truck, a Halliburton tanker that didn't really contain oil at all, a Wal-Mart distribution truck, Direct TV and FedEx trucks, even police cars and school buses.

"Some of [the fakes] are excellent," O'Connor said.

Police cannot say how many cloned vehicles there are on the road, but correct spelling is essential for those who don't want to be caught -- one of the trucks was labeled "Border Patron."

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