That fake Coach handbag, and the phony Louis Vuitton scarf may soon get a lot harder to find on America's streets. The government on Tuesday announced its biggest ever West Coast seizure of phony designer goods targeting San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf district.
The Obama administration had been promising to step up enforcement actions aimed at intellectual property including trademarks, and there were hints Tuesday of more raids to come.
Among the contraband seized Tuesday: Counterfeit copies of designer brands like Oakley, Dooney and Bourke, Nike, Coach and Kate Spade, and foreign designers such as Armani, Burberry, Prada and Louis Vuitton.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said the designer fakes were illegally imported from China, and included clothing, handbags and wallets, jewelry and watches, scarves, sunglasses and shoes bearing the labels of more than 70 well-known brands.
The service put the value of the items seized at $100 million, but based that number on what the products would have sold for had they been legitimate. In fact, undercover ICE agents who posed as customers in some of the San Francisco stores were told that the merchandise they were buying was counterfeit before they made the purchase.
A 25-count indictment filed earlier, but unveiled on Tuesday, charged 11 people -- the owners, operators and some employees of eight shops in the Fisherman's Wharf area. They face charges of smuggling, trafficking in counterfeit goods and conspiring to traffic in counterfeit goods, with jail terms as long as 10 years possible.
Most of those shops are closed.
The indictments climaxed a more than three-year investigation that began with the 2007 interception of a container in the Port of Oakland filled with 50,000 counterfeit design accessories with a total value of $22 million at full retail.
Both Justice Department and ICE officials said the seizures and arrests were part of increased interest in counterfeit and pirated products.
"It's another indication of stepped up enforcement," Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman told WalletPop. She said the department is continuing to push forward.
In a statement U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello said, "Interdicting and destroying counterfeit and trademark infringing goods has long been a priority of the federal government."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a blog posting today praised the action. "These commendable actions by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement demonstrate their commitment to combating the growing scourge of counterfeiting and piracy, which puts consumers at risk and hinders job creation and economic growth," said the posting from Rob Calia, director of the Chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center domestic center.
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