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Intellectual Property Rights

Member of largest counterfeit goods conspiracy in history sentenced

NEWARK, N.J. — A New York member of a $300 million international counterfeit goods conspiracy, deemed one of the largest counterfeit goods case ever prosecuted, was sentenced Monday to 46 months in prison for his role in the scheme. The arrest follows a joint investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark Field Office and the FBI.

Ming Zheng, aka Uncle Mi, 48, of New York, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas to conspiracy to launder money. Judge Salas imposed the sentence Monday in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from November 2009 to February 2012, Zheng and his co-defendants ran one of the largest counterfeit goods smuggling and distribution conspiracies ever charged by the Department of Justice. The defendants and others conspired to import hundreds of containers of counterfeit goods – primarily handbags, footwear and perfume – from China into the United States in furtherance of the conspiracy. These goods, if legitimate, would have had a retail value of more than $300 million.

Zheng was instrumental in multiple money laundering transactions – he received cash from other conspirators and caused it to be transferred overseas in furtherance of the laundering process. During the investigation, Zheng was introduced to undercover special agents by co-defendants who were running the counterfeiting operation. Conspirators obtained cash from these undercover agents, which were purportedly the proceeds of gambling and other unlawful activities. These other conspirators then provided the money to Zheng. For every $50,000 in cash the undercover agents provided, Zheng and others would return approximately $42,500 – via wire transfers from banks in China – into a bank account set up by the undercover agents.

When other conspirators received money to be laundered, one of the conspirators would contact Zheng, who in turn contacted a China-based conspirator, and transferred the money to locations in China. The money then, less the laundering fee, was transferred from Fujian, China, to a bank in Guangzho, China, where it was subsequently withdrawn and physically transported via courier to a bank in Hong Kong where it was finally transferred into an account in the undercover agents' name.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Pak and Zach Intrater of the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property section of the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark and Nicholas Grippo of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Trenton prosecuted the case on behalf of U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

The HSI-led Intellectual Property Rights Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21-member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.

For more information on the IPR Center please visit www.IPRCenter.gov.

HSI encourages the public to report intellectual property rights violations and related information by calling at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or by visiting www.ICE.gov/tips. For more information, visit www.ice.gov.