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December 17, 2021New Orleans, LA, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

ICE HSI holiday counterfeit operation seizes $1 million in counterfeit drugs, products

NEW ORLEANS — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans seized 59,425 counterfeit items valued at more than $1 million during a holiday-related intellectual property rights surge operation.

The HSI-led initiative, dubbed Operation Safety Claus, was supported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, with support from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations. The coordinated federal law enforcement operation focused on interrupting counterfeit efforts in the New Orleans metro area during the holiday shopping season. In total, the seized counterfeit items had a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price of $1,012,942.

HSI New Orleans Deputy Special Agent in Charge Jeb Bison said that intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement is a priority for HSI amongst all the federal crimes the agency is tasked with investigating.

“Counterfeit products such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics pose a serious threat to the health and safety of unsuspecting consumers, impacts legitimate trade, and compromises our national security,” said Bison. “We are committed to working closely with our federal and state partners and private sector stakeholders to keep illegal and dangerous products away from the U.S. public, while disrupting revenue streams that fund transnational criminal organization.”

Beginning in November, more than two-dozen HSI New Orleans special agents began conducting surveillance of area business locations, ultimately identifying numerous vendors engaged in the illegal sale of counterfeit goods.

Although Black Friday has long been the unofficial start to the U.S. holiday season, retailers have pushed holiday shopping earlier for the last decade or so. The pandemic and supply chain shortages have also created an earlier start to the shopping season and increased online shopping demand. During the second phase of the operation, special agents shifted focus to the holiday gift-buying season and seized counterfeit cosmetics, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, electronics, sports memorabilia, designer watches, clothing and shoes, and other miscellaneous items.

“As the federal agency responsible for the management, control, and protection of U.S. borders and ports of entry, CBP is on the frontline of Intellectual Property Rights enforcement. Counterfeit and pirated goods harm America’s economy and our business competition, which affects the livelihood of our workers and business owners,” said Terri Edwards, Area Port Director, New Orleans. “What you may not know, is when you buy counterfeit goods, you’re not only buying a potential health and safety risk, but you may be helping fund larger criminal activity. Buy from legitimate sellers, do your research, and remember: if a deal feels too good to be true, it’s probably fake.”

HSI special agents investigate and enforce violations of federal trademark, copyright and patent laws. HSI’s commercial fraud program focuses on commercial imports based on false statements and deceptive business practices. The production and trafficking of counterfeit goods poses a significant risk and safety threats to consumers. It also impacts the economic growth of legitimate businesses and consumers through lost revenue, downtime and replacement costs. The HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center is one of the key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. HSI agents with the IPR Center work alongside other federal, state and local law enforcement partners across the country to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft.