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Intellectual Property Rights

St. Louis-area store owner pleads guilty to selling fake merchandise

ST. LOUIS - The owner of two local stores pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to selling counterfeit goods, including merchandise with fake Nike®, Coach® and Ralph Lauren® labels. This guilty plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Passaro Frango, 51, of University City, Mo., pleaded guilty June 9 to one felony count of trafficking in counterfeit goods before U.S. District Judge Charles A. Shaw, Eastern District of Missouri. Frango owns West African Art, located at 2623 Cherokee St., St. Louis, and F & A Fashions, located at 6212 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., in Wellston, Mo.

Frango admitted to selling counterfeit goods at both locations between September 2005 and February 2009, including fake merchandise bearing Nike trademarks and those of numerous other designer clothing companies.

In September 2005, a representative of several clothing manufacturers learned that Frango was selling counterfeit Nike shoes at his West African Art store. A cease-and-desist notice was served to Frango and his business, but Frango continued selling the counterfeit merchandise. Further investigation revealed that he was also selling counterfeit Nikes at the F & A Fashions location.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department executed search warrants in March 2008 at both businesses and discovered a semitrailer-load of counterfeit designer goods. Among the merchandise seized were items bearing the following counterfeit trademarks: Apple Bottom®, Polo Ralph Lauren®, Coach®, True Religion®, Timberland®, Baby Phat®, Roca Wear®, and others. The total infringement value of the seized goods exceeds $1 million.

Due to the volume of contraband goods encountered, ICE was asked to assist in the investigation. Subsequent investigation by ICE revealed that Frango had multiple Missouri identification cards, as well as bank accounts and business facilities in different names. ICE's investigation also led to the seizure of two more semitrailers of counterfeit goods.

"Merchandise counterfeiting should concern every American since it is not a victimless crime," said James Ward, resident agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in St. Louis. "Counterfeit goods cost U.S. industries billions of dollars in losses each year, and the illicit proceeds are often used to facilitate organized crime. Investigating those involved in fake merchandise is an important role for ICE."

Frango faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and up to $2 million in fines at his Aug. 4 sentencing. Although Frango is a U.S. permanent resident, this conviction may render him eligible for deportation to Mauritania after he completes any prison sentence that the court may impose.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bodenhausen, Eastern District of Missouri, is prosecuting this case.