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January 31, 2019Atlanta, GA, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

ICE, CBP operation nets over $24 million in fake sports-related merchandise

ATLANTA – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced today that collaborative enforcement efforts led by its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) component and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) resulted in the seizure of nearly 285,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $24.2 million, and related investigations led to 28 arrests with 21 convictions.

The latest intellectual property enforcement statistics were part of Operation Team Player, an ongoing effort developed by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) to target the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit sports merchandise, were revealed in Atlanta, Georgia, at a joint press conference with the NFL, CBP, Atlanta Police Department (APD) and Department of Justice (DOJ).

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is committed to targeting criminals attempting to disrupt the Super Bowl and other major sporting events by engaging in counterfeiting and additional illicit activities,” said ICE Deputy Director Ronald D. Vitiello. “Intellectual property theft has very severe consequences, which include negatively impacting the U.S. economy; threatening the health and safety of American consumers; and funding criminal organizations involved in violent crimes.”

Special agents from HSI teamed with industry, CBP, Atlanta police officers and other partner agencies to identify flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors selling counterfeit goods during the week leading up to Super Bowl LIII. They seized fake jerseys, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

“The NFL values its partnership with the IPR Center, ICE, HSI, CBP, and Atlanta law enforcement, whose joint anti-counterfeiting enforcement efforts protect consumers from predatory sellers who seek to illegally profit from our fans’ enthusiasm for their team and the Super Bowl championship game,” said NFL Vice President of Legal Affairs, Dolores DiBella. “The NFL is committed to supporting law enforcement’s anti-counterfeiting and consumer protection measures. The dedicated work of law enforcement is integral to any successful anti-counterfeiting operation, and we extend our appreciation and gratitude to every agent and officer engaged in Operation Team Player.”

Last year, HSI announced that enforcement actions related to Operation Team Player resulted in the seizure of $15 million worth of counterfeit sports-merchandise. Enforcement actions related to this year’s effort led to a 54 percent increase in the value of seizures over the previous year. Throughout the year, the IPR Center led coordinated efforts with major sporting leagues to target contraband that impacts the economy, enables additional criminality and poses potential health and safety hazards to the public. For example, HSI teams in Boston seized 3,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $87,000 during the 2018 World Series.

“Collaborative efforts, such as Operation Team Player, ensure that the health and safety of the American people and the vitality of our economy are preserved,” said CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “CBP is proud to partner with ICE, the IPR Center and local authorities to protect businesses and consumers from intellectual property thieves that produce counterfeit and often defective and dangerous merchandise.”

The IPR Center – formally codified in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 – is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The center uses the expertise of its 24 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft.

“The Super Bowl is game on for criminals trying to scam unsuspecting fans,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center. “From counterfeit tickets to fake, substandard jerseys and sports gear, fans could be cheated out of their money and have their private information stolen. These counterfeits also cause long-ranging harm to the American economy, jobs, and businesses. The only way to be certain that you get what you paid for is to shop from authentic retailers and vendors.”