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February 2, 2017Houston, TX, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

'Operation Team Player' nets $20 million in fake sports merchandise

HOUSTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives announced today that enforcement actions led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) resulted in the seizure of over 260,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $20 million, and joint investigative efforts led to 56 arrests with 50 convictions.

The results from Operation Team Player, a year-round effort developed by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) to crackdown on the illegal importation of counterfeit sports apparel and merchandise, were revealed at a press conference hosted by the NFL with participation from ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Houston Police Department, Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Harris County Constable’s Office.

“Criminal elements use major sporting events like the Super Bowl as an opportunity to sell substandard and counterfeit goods to the American public,” said Acting ICE Director Thomas D. Homan. “ICE special agents are committed to collaborating with industry and law-enforcement agencies to crackdown on counterfeiting that significantly impacts local economies and funnels money into organizations involved in additional illicit activities.”

Special agents from HSI teamed with industry, CBP and local law enforcement to identify flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors selling counterfeit goods during the week leading up to Super Bowl LI. They seized fake jerseys, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

“The NFL is proud to continue its work with ICE, the IPR Center, and law enforcement departments throughout the country to protect fans and consumers who are seeking an authentic NFL experience during the celebration of Super Bowl LI,” said NFL Vice President of Legal Affairs, Dolores DiBella. “Their collaborative enforcement efforts advance consumer protection goals for every industry, year-round.”

This year’s Operation Team Player, which saw significant increases in arrests and convictions, began at the conclusion of last year’s Super Bowl. Throughout the year, the IPR Center led coordinated efforts with major sporting leagues to target contraband that impacts the economy, enables additional criminality and poses health and safety hazards to the public.

“Collaborative efforts like Operation Team Player put the health and safety of the American people and the vitality of our economy first,” said Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “CBP is proud to partner with ICE, the IPR Center and local authorities to ensure businesses and consumers are protected from intellectual property thieves.”

As one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy, the IPR Center is not only committed to closely coordinating with its 23 member agencies, but also collaborating with industry and anti-counterfeiting associations to develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft.

“Super Bowl fans should beware of the scammers descending on Houston and flooding the internet with fake fan gear,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “Instead of supporting their favorite teams and players, unsuspecting enthusiasts who purchase counterfeit goods could be forfeiting their personal financial information to criminal networks and undermining American jobs. For consumers, the best defense against counterfeit sellers is a good offense: only purchase known brands from known sellers that bear the official holographic marks of authenticity.”