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Intellectual Property Rights
03/23/2010

ICE seizes more than $2.3 million in counterfeit items in Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - More than $2.3 million in counterfeit merchandise, including fake designer handbags, shoes and other accessories, was seized at an Oak Creek, Wis., residence Saturday by local agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Oak Creek Police Department asked ICE agents for assistance March 20 after unusually heavy traffic was observed to a rented house located at 8868 S. 27th St. An Oak Creek police officer conducted a consent search and discovered that the house was being used as a storefront to sell suspected counterfeit handbags, belts, shoes and other items.

ICE agents responded to the scene and seized about 2,000 suspected counterfeit items being sold under luxury name brands such as Coach, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. ICE agents are currently inventorying the seized goods. If the items had sold at the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the genuine brand merchandise, the estimated value is more than $2.3 million. No charges have been filed, and the investigation continues.

"Trafficking counterfeit goods is a global enterprise that robs U.S. industries of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "These sales generate profits that often go to support other types of criminal activity. No one should ever consider this a victimless crime."

Counterfeiting, piracy and other intellectual property rights (IPR) violations have grown in magnitude and complexity as technology facilitates this crime, which annually costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars in lost revenue and American jobs. This impact is not just on the business community. In some instances, this crime poses a direct threat to public health and safety.

The growth in IPR violations has been fueled in part by the spread of technology that enables simple and low-cost duplication of copyrighted products. This growth is also fueled by the rise in organized crime groups that smuggle and distribute counterfeit merchandise for profit. In many cases, international organized crime groups use the enormous profits derived from selling counterfeit goods to bankroll other criminal activities such as drug and weapons trafficking.

Anyone with information related to counterfeit merchandise is encouraged to contact law enforcement. The public may also call ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at: 1 (866) DHS-2ICE.