Considering the debilitating effects of the illegal substances authorities contend were to be smoked in the pipes put on display Thursday, the bowl designs that predominated were especially macabre.
There were skulls with swords thrust through them, skulls with roses and, of course, skulls with crossbones.
But there were also fat ceramic trolls labeled "party potato"; crazy curlicues of delicately blown, tinted glass; hundreds of simple, straight tubes with fluted ends, and a two-foot-tall acrylic "double bong," decorated with flower decals.
The pipes, laid out on tables and boxes in the lobby of the U.S. Customs office on Terminal Island, were part of what a customs official called one of the largest seizures of drug paraphernalia ever in the United States.
Roger Urbanski, U.S. Customs special agent in charge of the Los Angeles area, said the pipes were among three big-rig truckloads of items confiscated Tuesday morning when federal agents and Vernon police officers raided two businesses in Vernon.
Urbanski contended that Berney-Karp Inc., a ceramics manufacturing facility, and California Los Angeles Presents Inc., a warehouse operation, are fronts for a multimillion-dollar manufacturing and distribution operation specializing in items used in the ingestion of illegal drugs, particularly marijuana and crack cocaine.
Customs officials valued the seized items at $3.5 million. Federal agents also froze $330,000 in bank assets of the businesses. There were no arrests.
A woman who answered the phone Thursday at Berney-Karp said no one was available for comment. There was no phone listing for California Los Angeles Presents.
No charges have been filed in the case. Urbanski said evidence from the raid will be presented to a grand jury under a 1987 federal law that makes the manufacture and interstate distribution and sales of items deemed drug paraphernalia a felony carrying a maximum three-year sentence and a $100,000 fine. Enforcement of the law fell to the Customs Service, which formed Operation PIPE to tackle what Urbanski described as a sideshow called an adjunct to the international drug trade.
"I don't claim (the raid) is going to have a big impact," he said. "It's a matter of attacking the problem from all fronts, from trafficking to money laundering and these products."