PHOENIX - Acting on a tip, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an investigator under contract to the National Football League (NFL) descended on a sports memorabilia store in Glendale, Ariz., over the weekend, seizing an array of counterfeit items, including a signed football jersey retailing for more than $2,000.
The jerseys, some bearing the autographs of famous athletes, are among the more than 1,200 pieces of counterfeit sports memorabilia and clothing confiscated by ICE and local law enforcement in the last five days. Although most of the seized items were fake NFL merchandise, ICE also seized counterfeit Major League Baseball Association and National Basketball Association jerseys and fake designer handbags and watches. The seizures are part of a crackdown on intellectual property rights violations (IPR) in the Phoenix area leading up to this weekend's Super Bowl. ICE IPR investigators estimate the retail value of the merchandise seized so far exceeds $140,000. The Phoenix and Glendale police departments are also participating in the fraud enforcement effort.
Some vendors are unaware that the merchandise is counterfeit. More often though, dealers know full well the products are fakes. Merchants who knowingly sell counterfeit goods face criminal prosecution in addition to having their merchandise seized. So far, investigators with ICE and the Phoenix Police Department have arrested two men and charged them with trafficking in counterfeit goods, a felony in Arizona.
"Historically, major events such as the Super Bowl are a magnet for IPR fraud, but we're using all of our resources and going after the counterfeits and the counterfeiters," said ICE Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers. "Not only are the fans who pay good money for phony merchandise being ripped off, but the proceeds from this kind of fraud are often funneled back into other types of criminal enterprises both here and abroad."
The enforcement operations targeting IPR fraud will continue through the weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium and at Super Bowl events and venues across the valley.
In fiscal year 2007, ICE partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to seize nearly $200 million in counterfeit or pirated merchandise nationwide. During that same period, ICE and CBP made more than 13,600 IPR seizures, resulting in 241 arrests, 149 indictments, and 134 criminal convictions.
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling, and distributing counterfeit products. ICE investigations focus not only on keeping counterfeit products off U.S. streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind this activity. ICE manages the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which plays a pivotal role in the U.S. government's domestic and international law enforcement attack on IPR violations. ICE agents and CBP personnel throughout the country rely upon the IPR Coordination Center for guidance in their inspections and investigations.