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Intellectual Property Rights

4 men charged in NJ counterfeit sports jersey scheme

NEWARK, N.J. — Two Atlantic County men were arrested Wednesday for participating in a multiyear conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit merchandise, including professional sports teams' jerseys. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the New Jersey State Police.

HSI special agents arrested and charged Brett Strothers, 32, of Egg Harbor Township, and his brother, Evan Strothers, 28, of Mays Landing, with conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods. Joseph Cuozzo, 44, a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand, and Haresh Aildasani, 27, an Indian citizen residing in the People's Republic of China, were also charged in the criminal complaint.

According to court documents, from 2010 to 2012, Brett and Evan Strothers purchased large quantities of counterfeit National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) sports jerseys, which they used as prizes in several different basketball and football-tossing amusement park games they operated on the Wildwood and North Wildwood boardwalk. The games enticed customers to pay for the chance to win a purported authentic NBA or NFL jersey by shooting basketballs into a hoop or tossing footballs through a target at various stands.

Brett and Evan Strothers purchased the counterfeit sports jerseys from Cuozzo who operated as a middleman between the defendants and Aildasani who manufactured the jerseys in the People's Republic of China and sold them to numerous customers.

Between 2010 and 2012, Brett and Evan Strothers allegedly purchased at least 16,700 counterfeit NBA and NFL jerseys from Cuozzo. Cuozzo purchased the jerseys from Aildasani and kept a portion of money for himself. The manufacturer's suggested retail price for authentic versions of these jerseys is estimated at approximately $4 million.

The defendants face up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $2 million or twice the gross amount of gain or loss sustained by any victim.

These seizures were part of Operation Team Player, a National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center)-led initiative that targets the sale and trafficking of counterfeit sports merchandise and apparel, a multimillion dollar criminal industry. The trafficking of these items is a lucrative business for criminals and becomes more profitable in markets involving successful and popular teams. The culmination of the sports season, all-star games and playoffs stimulate the sale of counterfeit items in local communities around the country.

The HSI-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.