MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton, speaking at a National Football League (NFL) news conference, announced the results thus far of a month-long enforcement operation into counterfeiting investigations specifically targeting vendors and local merchants of game-related sportswear in the South Florida area.
Special agents of the ICE Office of Investigations in Miami have seized 1,603 items of phony Super Bowl-related memorabilia along with other counterfeit items, to date for a total take of $155,479 with the Super Bowl XLIV still days away.
The jerseys, hats, t-shirts, shoes and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit memorabilia and clothing confiscated by ICE and local law enforcement in the last month. Although most of the seized items were purporting to be NFL merchandise, ICE also seized counterfeit Major League Baseball Association and National Basketball Association jerseys and fake designer handbags, watches and electronics.
The seizures are part of a crackdown on intellectual property rights (IPR) violations in the South Florida area leading up to last weekend's Pro Bowl and this weekend's Super Bowl.
"This unprecedented playing of the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl in the same week in the same city has been a magnet for the criminals who steal trademarks and knock off trusted brands to sell their substandard wares," said Morton. "At every major sports event, these unscrupulous entrepreneurs take advantage of fan fever to sell the whole range of products bearing the trademark and names of the teams. They use inferior materials and craftsmanship to pump out look-alikes that do not benefit the teams, the players or the associations that have created those goods. Counterfeiting hurts the consumer, it hurts business and it costs American jobs."
"We are delighted to be working again with ICE and appreciate their dedication to enforcing intellectual property rights" said Anastasia Danias, NFL Vice President, Legal Affairs. "Their efforts protect our fans and local businesses, who want to support their home team and invest in legitimate merchandise."
ICE Special Agent in Charge Miami, the NFL Loss Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and local law enforcement partnered with the ICE National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) to combat intellectual property rights violations, including the illegal use of registered trademarks, trade names and copyrights of NFL Pro Bowl and Super Bowl XLIV merchandise.
The participating agencies are using their resources to target criminal organizations, vendors and individuals using local and online business establishments to smuggle, distribute and sell counterfeit NFL Pro Bowl and Super Bowl merchandise.
In the last month, ICE special agents working with local counterparts have dropped by stores, street vendors, flea markets and swap meets to scan their goods for counterfeits, particularly those aimed at football fans pouring into the area to follow their teams.
Some vendors are unaware that the merchandise is counterfeit. More often, though, dealers know full well the products are counterfeit. Merchants who knowingly sell counterfeit goods face criminal prosecution in addition to having their merchandise seized.
The enforcement operations targeting IPR fraud will continue through the weekend at Super Bowl events and venues throughout the Miami area.
In 2009, ICE and its IPR Center partners seized goods with a total domestic value of more than $260 million. Counterfeit shoes - most of them sports apparel - were the leading commodity seized last year and for three years before that.
During the recent holidays, ICE, its federal, state and local partners and the government of Mexico seized more than $26 million worth of products in 41 locations around the United States.
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 this 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.
ICE's IPR enforcement efforts the past two Super Bowls have resulted in the seizure of 15,653 counterfeit items worth $1,826,562 in the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla. and 10,212 items worth $542,120 seized in the 2008 Super Bowl in Phoenix.