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November 24, 2020New Orleans, LA, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

ICE HSI investigation seizes $16.7 million in counterfeit drugs, products

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans seized 51,000 counterfeit items valued at more than $16.7 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), U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, with support from the U.S. Attorney Eastern District of Louisiana. The coordinated federal law enforcement operation focused on interrupting counterfeit efforts in the New Orleans metro area during the holiday shopping season.

This year’s operation nearly doubled the HSI New Orleans 2019 totals, which resulted in 33,000 items seized, valued at $8 million.

HSI New Orleans acting Special Agent in Charge Gilbert Trill 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 poses a serious threat to the health and safety of unsuspecting consumers, impacts legitimate trade and compromises our national security,” said Trill. “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 late October, 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, with an emphasis on Halloween-related items such as cosmetic contact lenses and makeup that pose a potential public safety threat due to possible bacterial and heavy metals contamination.

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, and the pandemic has created more online shopping demand. During the second phase of the operation, special agents shifted focus to the holiday gift-buying season and seized cosmetics, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, cell phone accessories, sports memorabilia, designer watches, clothing and shoes, and other miscellaneous items.

“CBP continues its trade enforcement efforts in collaboration with our federal and industry partners to identify counterfeit and illicit goods in cargo shipments that include e-commerce,” said CBP New Orleans Field Office Director Steven Stavinoha. “CBP remains committed to enforcing intellectual property rights to ensure the safety of our citizens and to protect our businesses. If an online sales item looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t the real thing, which could be hazardous to you or the recipient.”

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.