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Intellectual Property Rights
12/17/2008

ICE and CBP seize over $6 million in harmful items at ports of entry

Dangerous holiday lights and children's toys top list of products that will not make it into U.S. homes

WASHINGTON, D.C. - For law enforcement and regulatory agencies that partner in Operation Guardian, an initiative aimed at identifying products coming into the United States that could pose a risk to public health and safety, the holiday season is in their sights all year long. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced today that Operation Guardian, a multi-agency partnership aimed at stopping potentially harmful imports, has interdicted and seized more than $6 million in harmful commodities in the first year of operation, among them almost a half million dollars worth of substandard holiday lights seized in the last three months alone.

Toys were also high on the list of items seized in Guardian operations throughout the year. Shipments worth $534,784 in domestic value were found to have lead levels exceeding those considered safe by U.S. standards. Additionally, more than $300,000 worth of toys were counterfeits of trusted brands that had not been tested for safety standards.

Operation Guardian, which was started by ICE in November 2007, is designed to combat the growing rise in the importation and distribution of harmful, foreign-manufactured products. It is hosted by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in Arlington, Va., and combines the expertise of specific areas of ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Justice Computer Crimes & Intellectual Property Section, the U.S Department of Agriculture, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to target, interdict, and investigate substandard, tainted, and counterfeit products being imported into the United States.

In its first year, Guardian paid particular attention to: electronic products, pharmaceuticals, food products, building and manufacturing components, personal hygiene products and toys.  As a result of pre-holiday Guardian surge operations at 18 ports of entry, four seizures were made of substandard holiday lights with a domestic value of more than $441,000. The seized holiday light sets failed standard safety testing, indicating they would pose a fire or shock hazard. The holiday lights do not have the safety features that are required by U.S. standards, failing tests designed to ensure their mechanical and electrical integrity. For example, samples submitted for analysis failed a strain relief test, which is required to ensure the mechanical integrity of the product during normal use. Five additional cargo containers are currently detained and are being tested.  Operation Guardian enforcement efforts have resulted in numerous ongoing criminal investigations by ICE and other Guardian partner agencies.   

"Under the auspices of Operation Guardian, ICE and its partners are aggressively identifying and preventing dangerous items from entering the United States and ultimately reaching American consumers," said John P. Torres, Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE.  "Thus far, this joint effort has resulted in significant seizures of children's toys, food items, and other products posing risks to Americans. In addition to seizures, ICE will continue its unyielding effort to prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law."

Operation Guardian works closely with business partners, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), whose trademark is meant to signal a product that meets safety standards.

"Though a very small percentage of goods bear counterfeit UL marks, one counterfeit mark is one too many," said Brian H. Monks, vice president of anti-counterfeiting operations at Underwriters Laboratories. "For more than 114 years, UL has been keeping families safe by setting strict standards in safety. That is why we maintain a zero-tolerance policy against counterfeiters and counterfeit goods."

The Guardian working-group style task force conducts detailed analysis of importation data to identify commodities of concern and their associated U.S. ports of entry, international mail branches and international courier hubs. Guardian members identify the ports of entry with the largest volume of imports of the targeted commodities, and then scour shipments containing those commodities for sampling.  As a result, coordinated multi-agency operations are initiated to target the importation of commodities determined to be high risk. Samples that are found to be counterfeit or substandard are seized and investigations are launched to identify and ultimately stop similar shipments and identify their sources.

The ICE-managed IPR Center, which houses representatives from partnering agencies, is the federal government's central point of contact in the fight against counterfeiters and trademark violators. In this state-of-the-art facility, the partners more effectively use their authorities and resources to attack the international problem of counterfeit, tainted and substandard goods.

For more information on the Guardian Operation and the IPR Center, go to: www.ICE.gov

To report a tip on counterfeiting, call: (866) IPR-2060