SEATTLE – A Lynnwood electronics company, a China-based manufacturer and four individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday for conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, following a probe by the Seattle-Tacoma Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
ConnectZone.com, LLC, its owner Daniel Oberholtzer, 50, of Lynwood, sales manager Warren Lance Wilder, 46, of Auburn, and production manager Edward Vales, 31, of Seattle, are alleged to have sold counterfeit network products bearing the trademark of Cisco Systems through their online store. They falsely advertised the knockoffs as genuine and offered them for sale at a much lower price than genuine Cisco products. Through the investigation, authorities learned the U.S.-based conspirators were responsible for arranging the manufacture of the counterfeit goods through Mao Mang, aka "Bob Mao," a representative for Shenzhen Xiewei Electronic, LTD of Shanghai, China. Both Mang and the company are also named in the indictment.
In addition to HSI, the other members of BEST that played a prominent role in the case included the Seattle Police Department, the Port of Seattle Police Department, with additional assistance provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations (CBP OFO).
"Counterfeiting high dollar goods can be very lucrative for enterprising criminals," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. "Their illicit activities ultimately come at the expense of trademark owners and consumers. They don't contribute to research and development, and the knockoffs they sell generally don't match the quality and safety of genuine items."
The indictment alleges that Oberholtzer, Wilder and Vales would advise Mao and Xiewei Electronic, and other Chinese firms on how to manufacture products to look like genuine Cisco trademarked goods. In an attempt to evade U.S. customs officials, merchandise would be labeled "samples" when shipped to the United States. The indictment describes the various emails sent between the conspirators as they ran their scheme, including discussions on how to reverse-engineer products. In addition to the conspiracy count, the indictment also charges two counts of mail fraud and four counts of trafficking in counterfeit goods. Prosecutors believe Oberholtzer has been distributing counterfeit equipment from China since at least 1997.
"Protecting the intellectual property of American companies is critical to job growth and economic recovery – especially in our high tech industries," said U.S. Attorney Durkan. "I commend the dedicated investigators who uncovered this scheme."
Conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2 million fine. Mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and trafficking in counterfeit goods is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
BEST Seattle is comprised of full time members from HSI; CBP OFO; the U.S. Secret Service; the Port of Seattle Police Department; the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service; and the FBI. BEST Seattle investigates smuggling and related crimes and combats criminal organizations seeking to exploit vulnerabilities at the Seattle and Tacoma seaports and adjacent waterways. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.