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February 1, 2018Minneapolis, MN, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

'Operation Team Player' nets over $15 million in fake sports merchandise

MINNEAPOLIS – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives announced today that enforcement actions led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection resulted in the seizure of over 171,926 counterfeit sports- and entertainment-related items worth an estimated $15.69 million, and joint investigative efforts led to 65 arrests with 24 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 entertainment merchandise, were revealed at a press conference hosted by the NFL with participation from ICE, CBP and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).

“Intellectual property theft is a serious crime, and black-market organizations descend on the Super Bowl and other major sporting events to sell counterfeit goods and substandard merchandise to unsuspecting consumers,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. “ICE agents are committed to investigating the trafficking of counterfeit goods that wreak havoc on local economies, threaten the health and safety of the American public and fund criminal organizations engaged in other illegal activities.”     

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

“The NFL greatly appreciates its partnership with ICE, the IPR Center, and local law enforcement in our coordinated efforts to protect consumers ahead of Super Bowl LII,” said NFL Vice President of Legal Affairs, Dolores DiBella. “Disrupting the sale of counterfeit merchandise and counterfeit tickets helps ensure an authentic gameday experience for all fans. The NFL remains committed to consumer protection efforts year-round, and this collaboration with law enforcement is essential for every organization engaged in the fight against counterfeiting.”

This year’s Operation Team Player, which saw a 16 percent increase in arrests, 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 potential 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.

“As the Super Bowl approaches, consumers should be vigilant when they’re purchasing fan gear, because illicit trade carries consequences that linger far after the fourth quarter,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center. “Counterfeiters sell substandard products, jeopardize consumers’ personal and financial information, and undermine American jobs and innovation. Fans deserve the real deal: Only purchase known brands from known sellers that bear the official holographic marks of authenticity.”