By Gary Symons
TLL Editor in Chief
Federal prosecutors arrested two men Nov. 15 in what they say was the largest-ever seizure of counterfeit goods in US history.
The investigators seized more than 200,000 counterfeit handbags, clothes and other luxury items worth $1.03 billion.
The indictments of Adama Sow and Abdulaj Jalloh were unsealed, revealing both men had been charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods.
“The seizures announced today consist of merchandise with over a billion dollars in estimated retail value, the largest-ever seizure of counterfeit goods in US history,” Williams said.
Counterfeiting can result in highly punitive prison sentences in the United States. If convicted, Sow and Jalloh could face up to 10 years behind bars.
From Queens and Manhattan, New York, respectively, Sow, 38, and Jalloh, 48, are each facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Officials say there were actually two locations involved in the search and seizure operation. One was a larger storage facility where Sow and Jalloh jointly distributed counterfeit goods, in which federal officials seized 83,000 items with a value of more than $502 million. A second site where Jalloh is accused of trafficking in bogus designer products saw more than 50,000 items seized, with an estimated value of more than $237 million.
Ivan Arvelo, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations, says the operation “underscores the unwavering commitment of HSI New York in the fight against intellectual property theft and serves as a testament to the dedication of our team and partner agencies, who have tirelessly pursued justice, culminating in the largest-ever seizure of this kind.”
Unfortunately, the counterfeiting of branded goods is a booming business around the world, and while enforcement plays a role, experts like Franco Diaz of the IP and brand protection firm JPatton say prevention is a better way to protect brands than relying on enforcement after the damage is already done.
Unfortunately, Diaz says many brands don’t engage security protocols until after they’ve already been hit with a major counterfeiting scandal that damages their long-term reputation.
“The owners of strong brands are often in a state of denial with regards to the existence of threats to their brand, via counterfeiting,” Diaz explains. “There’s a belief that, it’s not going to happen to us, but what happens when it does hit them, the reaction is often to find a cheap quick fix which is usually the wrong long-term solution for them.
“It’s a bit like buying insurance: You have to be proactive about protecting your IP, products and supply chain, because the cost of failing to do so could be far higher than the cost of getting that security in the first place.”
Over the years, JPatton has seen just about every kind of counterfeit product you can imagine. For example, counterfeiters will put cheap or tainted wine and spirits into bottles branded by legitimate manufacturers, or fake labels on electrical wire and cables that are manufactured so poorly they actually start fires.
“Another common problem is an ongoing issue with fake cosmetics,” Diaz says. “We have seen products on the market found to contain urine, arsenic and other impurities that can harm unsuspecting users.
The incidence of counterfeiting is widespread, and it’s worth following JPatton’s Twitter account to see just how prevalent it is. In a single day, @JPatton posted stories on counterfeit Samsung storage drives; phony rolling papers; counterfeit medications in Mexico and in a separate case in Texas; a million dollars worth of bogus branded clothes at a single store in Ontario; fake Rolex and Prada watches; phony replica cell phones; counterfeit stamps being sold on Facebook; and consumer electronics sold under counterfeited brands in Idaho.
As well, this month alone saw $8.6 million worth of phony branded goods seized in a raid in Hong Kong, as well as 12,000 counterfeit luxury handbags at a woman’s home in Georgia, and most seriously of all, a cache of fake Ozempic medication has been linked to the hospitalization of at least three people.
Douglas Hand, fashion lawyer and partner at Hand Baldachin & Associates LLP, said it was “heartening to see the US attorney take this bold action and protect fashion brands’ IP rights”, adding the counterfeit trade is a “significant problem not just for luxury fashion brands and the dilution of their trademarks’ values but also for consumers and society at large as many counterfeit products are produced in oppressive labor environments and without any adherence to ecological production methods.”