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Intellectual Property Rights

Nigerian woman charged in international DVD piracy ring

CHICAGO - A Nigerian woman is facing state charges for her role in an international operation after authorities seized nearly 6,500 pirated DVDs from her Chicago apartment. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Cook County Sheriff's Office in Illinois.

Akpezi Mokedi, 34, is charged with unlawfully using unidentified sound or audio/visual recordings, which is a felony. Almost 6,500 pirated DVDs were seized from her apartment in the 5800 block of N. Sheridan Road.

Records show Mokedi was obtaining the DVDs by the caseload on an almost daily basis from an illegal overseas operation. She set up online accounts to sell the DVDs, which varied in quality, to those searching popular shopping websites, including Amazon.com, for specific shows. Mokedi appeared to specialize in providing entire box sets of television shows, since she had hundreds of box sets of shows such as "Lost," "Criminal Minds," "One Tree Hill" and "House," among others. Also contained in the shipments were hundreds of exercise, music and history box sets.

"Trafficking counterfeit goods is a global enterprise that robs U.S. industries of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year and destroys American jobs," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "These illegal sales generate profits that often support other types of criminal activity. No one should ever consider this a victimless crime."

Sheriff's investigators were alerted to the illegal operation by ICE agents, and authorities worked to set up a controlled delivery of illegal DVDs to Mokedi's apartment on May 10. After she accepted the shipment, county and federal investigators found three computers and about 25 shipped boxes, each addressed to Mokedi and filled with illegal DVDs.

Mokedi was arrested and charged May 11. Though investigators seized all DVDs from her apartment, they also found a key to a storage facility in her possession. When investigators raided that storage unit, they found it had been emptied. Since her arrest, all of Mokedi's online postings have been taken down and someone appeared to delete any online links to her operation.

Though Mokedi briefly came in the Cook County Jail, she was able to post 10 percent of her $10,000 bond. As soon as she posted that bond, she was taken into custody by ICE agents while she goes through removal proceedings.

Mokedi's next court date is set for May 25 at the county court facility at Belmont and Western in Chicago.

Counterfeiting, piracy and other intellectual property rights (IPR) violations have grown in magnitude and complexity as technology facilitates this crime, which annually costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars in lost revenue and American jobs. This impact is not just on the business community. In some instances, this crime poses a direct threat to public health and safety.

The growth in IPR violations has been fueled in part by the spread of technology that enables simple and low-cost duplication of copyrighted products. This growth is also fueled by the rise in organized crime groups that smuggle and distribute counterfeit merchandise for profit. In many cases, international organized crime groups use the enormous profits derived from selling counterfeit goods to bankroll other criminal activities, such as drug and weapons trafficking.

Anyone with information related to counterfeit merchandise is encouraged to contact law enforcement. The public may also call ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at: 1 (866) DHS-2ICE.