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Customs Lassos $16 Million of Big Brand Counterfeits in Texas Bust

Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit seized nearly 79,000 counterfeit items last week in Laredo, Tex., including apparel and consumer electronics from luxury and sporting goods companies including Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Nike, Apple, Samsung and Sony.

Homeland Security estimated the value of the seized items at more than $16 million, which would make it the bureau’s second-largest counterfeit seizure in Laredo. Homeland Security is now conducting an investigation with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Mexican Customs and representatives from the trademark industry.

The seizures came about when, on Thursday, HSI special agents surveyed a public storage facility in Laredo and found people transferring boxes to pickup trucks and vans with Mexican license plates. While agents observed the storage facility, a large air-courier box truck arrived to unload suspected counterfeit merchandise to waiting pickup trucks and vans.

The scene prompted the seizure of 275 boxes containing 78,908 items of suspected trademark-infringed merchandise, which had been shipped in large boxes from China to an international cargo terminal located in Laredo. The boxes were manifested to fictitious Laredo recipients and addresses, according to Homeland Security.

“Trafficking counterfeit goods poses a triple threat,” said Tim Tubbs, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Laredo. “Counterfeit merchandise wreaks havoc on local economies, threatens the health and safety of the American public, and funds criminal organizations engaged in other illegal activities.”

The agency noted that historical information suggests that smugglers typically transport illicit goods into Mexico, often failing to file required export documents through CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment in order to exploit the ports of entry by clandestinely smuggling merchandise to Mexico. Once in Mexico, smugglers typically pay bribes to Mexican cartels that can extort Mexican regulatory and law enforcement officials so the merchandise passes without inspection or duty payment.

Last fiscal year, Homeland Security and Customs made more than 32,000 seizures involving counterfeit goods with an estimated value of more than $1.2 billion. The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition estimates that intellectual property crime annually costs U.S. businesses several hundred billion dollars in lost revenues.