TAMPA, Fla. – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from the Lakeland Police Department and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), seized 7,846 pirated DVDs and nearly $170,000 in Lakeland Thursday. The seizures are part of a global counterfeit motion picture DVD investigation that began in Lakeland and extended to the People's Republic of China.
Thus far, seven people have been charged federally for their roles in the case. Each of the seven previously pleaded guilty. Six of them have already been sentenced.
According to court documents, in 2010 or earlier, Jian Huang, of China, 37, and his China-based company TM Wholesale began making bulk sales of counterfeit motion picture DVDs, along with counterfeit packaging, to buyers in the United States and throughout the world. Huang's counterfeit conspiracy included multiple bulk purchasers in the Lakeland area. The bulk purchasers would buy the counterfeit DVDs from Huang at approximately $1.28 per unit. The purchasers would then resell them online, via Amazon and eBay, as genuine DVDs. Unsuspecting customers were then charged a retail price of approximately $12 per DVD.
In April and July of 2011, law enforcement agents seized a total of approximately 113,618 pirated DVDs from three bulk purchasers in Polk County. The DVDs were all supplied by Huang. Special agents also gathered evidence revealing that, between January 2009 and May 2012, payments of more than $2.5 million were made to Huang's PayPal account. The payments came from approximately 270 different bulk purchasers with addresses located primarily in the United States.
On Aug. 10, Huang pleaded guilty to conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods. He was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison Nov. 2. The court also ordered Huang to pay restitution to the MPAA in the amount of $1.2 million.
"Intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime. When people pirate trademarked movies, they cost American businesses billions of dollars in revenue, which in turn, leads to the loss of American jobs," said Shane Folden, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Tampa.
"The Lakeland Police Department's Special Investigations Section committed a detective to Homeland Security Investigations for this investigation for the past 18 months," said Assistant Chief Mike Link. "During this extensive investigation, Lakeland detectives partnered with Homeland Security Investigations to provide covert investigative support and assistance to help eradicate this global criminal enterprise."
"Today's announcement is a victory for both American consumers and the millions of men and women who work in the creative industries," said Mike Robinson, executive vice president for content protection at the MPAA. "We applaud U.S. law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney's Office for successfully bringing to justice these foreign criminals who were illegally profiting off the ingenuity and creativity of American workers. This effort was a vital step toward protecting both the livelihoods of millions of hardworking Americans and a thriving legitimate market for the movies and TV shows that audiences love."
Six of Huang's co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty to trafficking in counterfeit labels, including: Lakeland residents Alex Lee Lim, 37, Donald Kenneth Brown Jr., 38, Martin William Grenfell, 49, and Christopher Alexander T. Clark, 47, as well as Robert Edmond Mattie, of Winter Haven, 27, and James William Ray, of Bartow, 35.
On Nov.15, Lim was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to the MPAA in the amount of $280,753. On Nov. 30, Ray was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $261,541 in restitution to the MPAA. Ray was also ordered to forfeit $100,005 in cash seized at the time of his arrest. On Dec. 6, Mattie was sentenced to five years of probation, with the first 12 months to be served on home detention. On Feb. 22, Brown was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution to the MPAA. That same day, Grenfell was sentenced to three years of probation. Clark pleaded guilty Feb. 8 and is scheduled to be sentenced May 3. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. As part of his plea agreement, Clark has agreed to forfeit $260,471 in counterfeit proceeds.
The MPAA is a trade association that represents certain motion picture, home video and television industry companies, including: Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., Warner Bros Entertainment Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Studios.