Jannette Grant, 51, of Bloomington, Ill., and Kimberly Nein, 50, of Argenta, Ill., waived indictment and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods. Both entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade in Peoria. Sentencing has been scheduled for Aug. 13, 2012.
According to court documents, Grant and Nein admitted to operating a business known as The Purse Lady, which offered items for sale that falsely bore trademarks of Coach, Kate Spade, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Dooney & Bourke, Prada, Tiffany & Co. and others. Goods were sold throughout central Illinois, including at various businesses; at home parties, also known as "purse parties;" through the mail; and at a warehouse in Argenta owned by Nein.
Grant and Nein admitted that they traveled to Chicago and New York regularly to purchase inventory. According to court documents, Grant and Nein advertised their items for sale as "replica/knockoff" and stated that all references to brands were for "entertainment and novelty purposes only" and "these companies are not affiliated with us in any way."
During search warrants executed by HSI special agents May 12, 2011 at Grant's home and at Nein's warehouse in Argenta, special agents recovered more than 15,000 counterfeit items with an estimated manufacturer's suggested retail price of nearly $1.6 million. The items included 2,000 purses, 900 wallets, 400 sunglasses, 10,900 emblems and medallions, and other items. Further, HSI special agents recovered various items that Grant surrendered, including a 2008 Dodge Caravan, a 2003 BMW and $18,052 in currency at her home. Special agents have also recovered $4,487 from the business' bank account and $80,000 held in a safe deposit box. Grant has also agreed to forfeit $47,522, the amount Grant had paid on two homes in Bloomington, in lieu of forfeiture of real estate.
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, HSI plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. HSI focuses not only on keeping counterfeit products off our streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such illicit activity.
HSI manages the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington. The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
To report IP theft or to learn more about the HSI-led IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Darilynn J. Knauss, Central District of Illinois, is prosecuting this case on behalf of the U.S. government.