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Intellectual Property Rights

New Jersey man pleads guilty in scheme to bribe port officials

NEWARK - A Bergen County man pleaded guilty today to conspiring to pay U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials more than $700,000 to traffic counterfeit luxury goods through the area port of Newark and other United States ports of entry, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Michael Hanna, also known as "Mike Nova" and "George Flores," 28, of Little Ferry, N.J., pleaded guilty this afternoon to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery of public officials and to traffic in counterfeit luxury goods.

At the plea hearing, Hanna admitted that he agreed with others to import counterfeit handbags, pocketbooks and sneakers that were intended to imitate the products of such legitimate luxury goods manufacturers as Coach, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Nike.

Hanna further admitted that between June 2008 and March 2009, he paid more than $700,000 in cash to an undercover law enforcement agent whom Hanna believed was acting at the direction of a corrupt CBP official. Hanna made the payments in an effort to obtain the purported CBP official's assistance in ensuring that shipping containers holding counterfeit luxury goods would not be seized at the port and to release from CBP's examination process any shipping containers that were being held.

"Port Newark and Elizabeth Marine Terminal are the primary container-ship facilities for goods entering and leaving not just the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region, but also the entire northeastern United States," U.S. Attorney Fishman said. "We will continue to use all appropriate investigative and prosecutorial tools to ensure that our ports are secure."

Hanna further admitted that he delivered cash to the undercover officer, including approximately $20,000 concealed in a Remy Martin cognac gift box, at diners and New Jersey Turnpike rest stops. The charge of conspiracy to which Hanna pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Hanna will be sentenced June 1, 2010, in Newark. Hanna was originally arrested and charged on March 18, 2009. On August 4, 2009, a federal grand jury indicted Hanna, charging him with conspiracy, bribery and trafficking in counterfeit goods relating to fifteen shipping containers of counterfeit luxury goods. Hanna has been on pre-trial release secured by a $200,000 bond since his arrest.

The investigation was conducted by ICE under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Peter Edge in Newark.