"Luggage is made of cloth or leather, so we knew there was an issue when we saw a whole bunch of rings and bracelets," said agency spokeswoman Roxanne Hercules.
When customs inspectors opened the 40-foot container they found it stuffed with counterfeit "designer" goods from China.
Yes, there were suitcases, there were even stacks of paste-on designer labels hidden deep in the container. But there was much, much more including the inevitable fake Rolex watches, each on a store placard with "Rolex" in English and Chinese.
When the inventory was completed, agents had recovered $22 million in fake designer merchandies, Hercules said.
The X-ray portal was put in place to detect radioactive material, hidden in a container by terrorists, she said. So far, no terrorist materials have been found. But custom inspectors X-ray every container that comes through the busy port - either on the pier or on trucks as the trucks leave the port, Hercules said.
That's a lot of containers, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 containers a month.
What customs inspectors have found is a lot of bogus goods. But no recent hauls as large as this one, Hercules said.
In this case, the container was X-rayed on the pier on May 9, after it was off-loaded from the M/V Kota Salam, which had just arrived from a port in China.
In a prepared statement, San Francisco Customs director of field operations Richard Vigna said, "The manufacturing of fake products for sale takes millions of dollars away from the trademark holder. Diligent work by CBP officers across the nation helps to end this type of fraudulent activity."
It was quite a haul: counterfeit Gucci, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel, Versace, Juicy Couture and other fraudulent brand name merchandise.
"We got over 50,000 pieces of jewelry, over 400 cartons of items," Hercules said.
For the shipper, for the Bay Area importer, the story is just beginnig, she added. The government is assessing civil penalties against those involved. The importer, whom the agency would not name, has a bond, which will be taken.
Also, the customs' agency criminal enforcement division now has the case, she said.
Contact Staff Writer William Brand at email@example.com.