NEW ORLEANS - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents and investigators under contract to the National Basketball Association (NBA) descended on businesses, free-lance entrepreneurs and a well-established flea-market in New Orleans, over the weekend, in what was termed a President's Day weekend sweep, seizing an array of counterfeit items, including Nike shoes, Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches and autographed basketball jerseys.
A number of jerseys, some bearing the autographs of famous athletes, are among the more than 10,000 pieces of counterfeit memorabilia and clothing confiscated by ICE and local law enforcement over the past three days. Although many of the seized items were fake NBA merchandise, ICE also seized counterfeit Major League Baseball Association and National Football League (NFL) jerseys and fake designer handbags and watches. The seizures are part of a crackdown on intellectual property rights (IPR) violations in the New Orleans area leading up to last weekend's NBA All Star Game. ICE investigators estimate the retail value of the merchandise seized so far exceeds $732,000. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office, Kenner Police Department and Louisiana State Police also participated in the fraud enforcement effort.
Some vendors are unaware that the merchandise is counterfeit. More often though, dealers know full well the products are fakes. Merchants who knowingly sell counterfeit goods face criminal prosecution in addition to having their merchandise seized.
"Historically, major events such as the NBA All Star Game, are a magnet for IPR fraud, but we're using all of our resources to seize fake goods and to go after the counterfeiters," said ICE Office of Investigations, Special Agent-in-Charge of New Orleans, Michael A. Holt. "The creation, smuggling and sale of counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime. Products that are produced illegally do harm to trademark holders, may be smuggled into the country and distributed by organized crime groups and sold to the detriment of local businesses and communities who derive no financial gain from the illegal sales. ICE is committed to an aggressive approach towards enforcing the nation's intellectual property rights laws."
The enforcement operations targeting IPR fraud continued through the weekend around the New Orleans Arena, where the game was played, on Canal St. and in New Orleans' historic French Quarter.
In fiscal year 2007, ICE partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to seize nearly $200 million in counterfeit or pirated merchandise nationwide. During that same period, ICE and CBP made more than 13,600 IPR seizures, resulting in 241 arrests, 149 indictments and 134 criminal convictions.
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling, and distributing counterfeit products. ICE investigations focus not only on keeping counterfeit products off U.S. streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such activity. ICE manages the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which plays a pivotal role in the U.S. government's domestic and international law enforcement attack on IPR violations. ICE agents and CBP personnel throughout the country rely upon the IPR Coordination Center for guidance in their inspections and investigations.