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Intellectual Property Rights

ICE seizes $389,000 worth of counterfeit items at South Florida flea markets

MIAMI - More than $389,000 worth of counterfeit merchandise was seized by special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) during a two-day enforcement operation targeting flea markets in the South Florida area that were suspected of selling counterfeit trademarked goods.

On Aug. 22 and 23, ICE-HSI Commercial Fraud Investigations special agents, and officers from the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), conducted "Operation Fire Sale" at Miami-area flea markets. They seized counterfeit trademarked goods that were being sold by local merchants at numerous booths at the Homestead Bargain Town Flea Market at 24400 Packing House Road in Homestead, Fla. and the Opa Locka/Hialeah Flea Market at 12705 NW 42 Ave. in Miami.

The searches resulted in seizing 28,474 individual items, including counterfeit Adidas shirts and shorts, DVDs, CDs, and knock-off sunglasses by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Christian Dior. Authorities estimate the collective value of the merchandise seized during the operation to be about $389,710, based upon the items' suggested retail price if they were legitimate. The largest cache of counterfeits, estimated to be worth nearly $204,000, was CDs confiscated during an Aug. 23 search by ICE special agents at the Homestead Bargain Town Flea Market.

"Retailers who sell counterfeit products are ripping off consumers by selling sub-standard products," said Anthony Mangione, ICE special agent-in-charge of ICE-HSI in Miami. "Selling counterfeit products undermines the U.S. economy, robs Americans of jobs, stifles American innovation, and promotes crime."

The ICE-led enforcement action was assisted by the following law enforcement agencies: U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Import Specialist Branch and Seized Property, the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) and the Dade County Medical Examiners Photography Unit. Private industry brand security specialists also assisted from the following companies: Adidas, Coty, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America; two private investigations companies representing over 100 registered trademarks also participated.

ICE-HSI's participation in the crackdown on counterfeit goods vendors is part of Operation Fire Sale, an agency initiative targeting intellectual property crime in several major cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. Spearheaded by the ICE-HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), Operation Fire Sale resulted in seizing more than $16 million worth of counterfeit merchandise in those cities last week.

ICE-HSI plays a leading role in investigating the production, smuggling and distribution of counterfeit products and combating intellectual property rights (IPR) violations. While many ICE-HSI enforcement actions involve counterfeit designer clothing and accessories, some of the top commodities seized in ICE-HSI IPR investigations are products that pose disturbing risks to public safety and security, including counterfeit pharmaceuticals and critical technology components, such as computer chips for defense systems and airplane equipment.

ICE-HSI's intellectual property theft enforcement efforts have continued to escalate in the past 18 months under this Administration. In fiscal year 2008, ICE initiated 643 intellectual property theft investigations during the entire year. In the first two quarters of this fiscal year, ICE-HSI initiated 560 intellectual property theft investigations. At that pace, ICE-HSI expects to increase its intellectual property theft enforcement by 40 percent compared to just two years ago.