The crackdown on counterfeits continues in the United States, and ongoing seizures are turning up substantial values of apparel and footwear products.
Now that it’s finished its appraisal of more than 181,000 counterfeit items seized in Laredo, Texas in June, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) unit put the value at more than $42.9 million.
After conducting surveillance over a three-day period, HSI special agents observed boxes containing suspected counterfeit merchandise being moved. They then discovered that all shipping labels on the boxes had fictitious delivery addresses in Laredo.
HSI confirmed the boxes contained counterfeit merchandise and confiscated them, eventually seizing 795 boxes containing 181,615 pieces of trademark-infringed merchandise. This included many counterfeited brands, including Adidas, Apple, Calvin Klein, Casio, Chanel, Coach, Diesel, Fendi, Gucci, Hugo Boss, LG, Luis Vuitton, Mark Kors, Nike, Rolex, Samsung, Sony, Under Armor, Yves St. Laurent, and DC and Marvel Comics.
The HSI-led investigation is being assisted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Field Operations, Mexican Customs and representatives from the trademark industry.
Through its investigation, HSI discovered that the Laredo-based criminal organization was the same one that agents had identified from a separate May counterfeit merchandise seizure. During the May action, HSI seized $16.1 million in trademark infringed merchandise destined for illegal export to Mexico.
Taken together, the two seizures represent $59 million in counterfeit merchandise, more than 260,000 pieces of garments, consumer electronics, cosmetics and jewelry.
“Criminal elements use every and any opportunity to sell substandard and counterfeit goods to the American public,” acting deputy special agent in charge Jesus Adrian Flores said. “HSI special agents are committed to collaborating with industry representatives and law-enforcement agencies to crackdown on counterfeiting that significantly hurts local economies and funnels money into criminal organizations involved in additional illicit activities.”
ICE said no criminal charges have yet been filed in the case, though the investigation remains ongoing.
According to HSI, the trademark-infringed merchandise seized was shipped in large boxes from China to an international cargo terminal located in Laredo, and manifested to fictitious Laredo recipients and addresses.
The agency said historical information suggests smugglers who typically transport illicit goods into Mexico often fail to file required export documents through CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment, but instead exploit the ports of entry by clandestinely smuggling merchandise to Mexico. Once there, the smugglers bribe Mexican cartels who often extort Mexican regulatory and law enforcement officials so that the merchandise passes without being inspected or paying import duties.
The HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, made up of 23 different federal agencies and four international agencies, oversees enforcement activities targeting the trafficking of counterfeit goods. Last fiscal year, HSI and its sister agency, CBP, made more than 28,000 seizures involving counterfeit goods with an estimated value of almost $1.4 billion. The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition estimates intellectual property crime costs U.S. businesses several hundred billion dollars per year in lost revenues.