More than two dozen people have been arrested in connection with one of the largest counterfeit goods busts in New York City history, a scheme that generated nearly half a billion dollars in the sale of fake luxury items ranging from knockoff Vuitton bags to Chanel perfume, federal officials said Thursday.
Twenty-two people have been charged in the case and 11 others were arrested in a separate warrant. Officials say they used 40-foot shipping containers to smuggle Chinese-manufactured items -- including fake Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch handbags, Michael Kors wallets, Hermes belts and Chanel perfume -- into the U.S., primarily through the Port of New York/New Jersey.
All but one of the 22 charged were arrested in the city Thursday morning. They hail from three of the five boroughs; three are also from Nassau County. They range in age from 26 to 58 and held varying roles, from importer to wholesale distributor to domestic shipper. Officials say the estimated retail price of the items, had they been genuine, would have been more than $450 million.
To get the fakes into the country, prosecutors say the "importers" used the names, addresses and other identifying information of legitimate companies and faked the descriptions of the containers' contents on customs paperwork. The counterfeit goods were then taken by trucks to self-storage facilities in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, where they were unloaded and stored.
The "distributors" would then re-sell the fakes to wholesale and retail sellers in New York, California and other parts of the country, officials said. Some of the suspects also allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds from the sales of the fakes. Charges include conspiracy to traffic and trafficking in counterfeit goods, conspiracy to smuggle and smuggling counterfeit goods, money laundering conspiracy, immigration fraud and unlawful procurement of naturalization.
Authorities also seized nine properties in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn belonging to the defendants, all of whom are expected to be arraigned later in the day.
"This investigation exposed the global nature of intellectual property crimes, allegedly being executed by those arrested today. Counterfeit goods manufactured and smuggled from China with a suggested value close to half a billion dollars, were intended to make its way into U.S. markets and into the hands of unsuspecting consumers,” HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Angel Melendez said in a statement. "This investigation should be a crystal clear message that counterfeiting and intellectual property rights violations is anything but a victimless crime as it harms legitimate businesses, consumers and governments."