NEW YORK — Six defendants were indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office Wednesday for selling counterfeit trademarked clothing from the brands Polo, Lacoste, North Face and True Religion to smaller distributors, who sold the goods throughout the United States. The indictments follow an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the New York Police Department (NYPD).
The defendants – Ali Chahine, 43, Imad Elcheikhali, 48, Wassim Faisal, aka Michael Saissan, 44, Haissam Saleh, 28, Mehdi Saleh, 37, and Kassem Tohme, 40 – are charged with trademark counterfeiting and conspiracy.
"Counterfeit goods are of inferior quality – they are often unsafe, unregulated, and of unknown provenance," said District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. "Buying them may appear on the surface to be a bargain, but it harms all of us in the long run. As the holiday season approaches, I want to advise shoppers to avoid counterfeit goods, because purchasing them can carry serious hidden costs. My office seeks to protect the business community from those who attempt to profit from the theft of their copyrighted material and intellectual property."
James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York, said, "Trademark counterfeiting is a crime that deprives rights holders and the global economy, including taxation authorities, of billions of dollars every year. HSI and our partners are committed to enforcing the nation's intellectual property rights laws and preserving the rights of industry and government alike."
NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, "We were concerned about this operation not only because it was cheating New Yorkers but also because of indications that proceeds were sent to areas in Southern Lebanon of concern to the Intelligence Bureau. The Bureau's detectives and analysts, along with our federal partners in this case and the prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, are to be commended for their investigation."
According to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, between approximately February and July 2013, Elcheikhali, with the assistance of Chahine and Faisal, sold counterfeit clothing to distributors around the country, including here in Manhattan. On July 16, 2013, law enforcement officials recovered more than 2,000 boxes of trademark counterfeit clothing at a storage facility in Queens linked to the defendants. The clothing is estimated to have a street value of more than $3.2 million and a manufacturers' suggested retail price for the genuine product of more than $13.4 million.
In a separate case, according to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, from approximately December 2011 to April 2012, Haissam and Mehdi Saleh, with the assistance of Tohme, sold counterfeit trademarked clothing to an undercover police detective for more than $20,000.
Elcheikhali, Faisal, and Haissam Saleh were arrested Tuesday. Chahine was arrested Wednesday. The other two defendants remain fugitives.
Last month, the District Attorney's Office's Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau also held its first-ever Intellectual Property Rights conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The event, which focused on enforcement in the digital age, was attended by nearly 200 cyber experts, members of state and federal law enforcement, and business, technology, and legal professionals.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.