BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A Bakersfield, Calif., retailer is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court here Tuesday afternoon on charges stemming from a long-term investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) into allegations he trafficked in counterfeit goods.
Eric Huggins, 51, owner of a Bakersfield shop called "Girlfriends by Design," was taken into custody Monday by ICE HSI agents based upon a criminal complaint issued earlier this month. According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, the investigation targeting Huggins began after ICE HSI received a lead that the shop owner was selling counterfeit merchandise. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
In Dec. 2009, an ICE HSI agent posing as customer bought several counterfeit items from "Girlfriends by Design," which was located at the time on Ming Ave. While making the purchase, the undercover agent asked Huggins about a bin containing unlabeled purses. According to the affidavit, the defendant told the agent he could "put any logo" on the purses … "Prada, Gucci or whatever logo."
Three months later, in March 2010, ICE HSI agents executed search warrants at the original "Girlfriends by Design" shop on Ming Ave. and at the businesses' new downtown location on 19th St. In addition, agents searched Huggins' Bakersfield home.
The searches resulted in the seizure of more than $140,000 in counterfeit clothing and accessories bearing the labels of well-known designer brands such as Chanel, Coach, Prada, Dooney & Bourke, Burberry, True Religion, Kate Spade, Juicy Couture and others. In addition, agents also seized numerous items of counterfeit sports apparel and merchandise, including goods purportedly made by Adidas and Reebok. The estimated value of the seized goods is based upon what the items would have sold for had they been genuine.
"People need to realize that the sale and purchase of counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime," said Michael Toms, resident agent in charge of the ICE HSI in Bakersfield. "Commercial piracy and product counterfeiting undermine the U.S. economy, rob Americans of jobs, stifle American innovation and promote other types of crime."
In addition to the two stores, the affidavit alleges Huggins also sold counterfeit goods from the back of a vehicle in the parking lots of various Bakersfield businesses. Much of that merchandise was counterfeit professional sports apparel, including phony NBA and NFL jerseys.
Huggins' will make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Thurston at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. The charge of trafficking in counterfeit goods carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and fine of up to $2 million.
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE HSI plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling, and distributing counterfeit products. ICE HSI focuses not only on keeping counterfeit products off U.S. streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind this activity.
Editor's Note: Media interested in viewing some of the counterfeit merchandise seized in this case may go by the ICE Homeland Security Investigations Office at 800 Truxton Ave, between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. today. Representatives from ICE HSI will also be available for interviews. Please call Mike Prado with ICE HSI at (661) 328-4470 to confirm an appointment IN ADVANCE.