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February 23, 2017Newark, NJ, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

3 people plead guilty to conspiracy to import and traffic counterfeit electronic products

NEWARK — Three people admitted Wednesday that they smuggled counterfeit electronics, including Apple iPhones, iPads and iPods from China for sale in the United States. The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office White Collars Squad, with significant assistance from Europol and Italy’s Guardia di Finanza.

Andreina Becerra, 31, a Venezuelan national, Roberto Volpe, 34, an Italian national, and Rosario La Marca, 54, an Italian national and resident of Naples, Italy, were originally charged in an eight-count indictment returned in April 2015 with importing and trafficking fake iPhones, iPads and iPods bearing counterfeit Apple trademarks, and fake camcorders bearing counterfeit Sony trademarks, as well as smuggling, structuring and international money laundering.

“Today’s plea is a reminder to all that counterfeit goods help to supply monies for nefarious activities like human trafficking, prostitution, drug smuggling and child labor, and ultimately undermine public trust,” said special agent in charge Terence S. Opiola, Homeland Security Investigations Newark Field office.

As part of their plea agreements, Volpe and Becerra, who are husband and wife, agreed to forfeit their interest in 10 bank accounts, three Florida condominiums, and approximately $167,000 in cash. La Marca agreed to forfeit funds in a corporate bank account which represented proceeds of the charged offenses.

According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From July 2009 through February 2014, the defendants conspired to smuggle into the United States from China more than 40,000 electronic devices and accessories. The estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for an equivalent number of genuine items would have exceeded $15 million. The devices were shipped separately from the labels bearing counterfeit trademarks in order to avoid detection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The devices were then labeled and packaged after they passed through customs.

The defendants then re-shipped the devices to conspirators all over the United States. Proceeds from the sales of the devices were funneled back to the defendants’ accounts in Florida and New Jersey via structured cash deposits – broken into multiple deposits of less than $10,000 each to avoid bank reporting requirements – and a portion of the proceeds was then transferred to conspirators in Italy, further disguising the source of the funds.

The defendants made more than 100 illegal wire transfers totaling more than $1.1 million to Hong Kong to facilitate their criminal activity.

The conspiracy charge to which the defendants pleaded guilty in Count One carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gain or loss associated with the offense, whichever is greatest. The charge for trafficking in counterfeit goods to which the defendants pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $2 million. Sentencing for La Marca is scheduled for June 14, 2017. Sentencing for Volpe and Becerra is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017.

Jianhua Li, a Chinese national currently residing in California, was charged in the original indictment, but has pleaded not guilty. The charges contained in the indictment against him are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.