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‘Operation Fake Sweep’ nets $5M in counterfeit NFL items

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A nationwide enforcement operation targeting stores, flea markets and street vendors selling counterfeit NFL and Super Bowl memorabilia has netted more than 50,300 counterfeit items that would have sold for more than $5.1 million.

John Morton, director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, and David Murphy, director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection field operations in Chicago, announced the record-breaking results of "Operation Fake Sweep" on Tuesday, saying most of the goods had been illegally imported into the United States.

The operation, they said, also included the seizure of more than 380 websites engaged in counterfeiting and online piracy, netting more than 22,570 items of counterfeit merchandise and clothing representing other sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League with an additional street value of $1.5 million.

Additionally, they said, 16 of the sites illegally streamed live game telecasts over the Internet, including NFL games, and 370 website domain names were illegally selling and distributing counterfeit jerseys, ball caps, T-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs.

"While most people were focusing on whether the Patriots or Giants would win on Sunday, we at ICE had our sights on a different type of victory: defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event, the NFL, its players and sports fans," Mr. Morton said. "Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it's the law."

Agents from the two federal agencies operated in teams with the NFL and other law enforcement agencies nationwide to identify illegal shipments imported into the U.S., as well as stores and vendors selling counterfeit trademarked items, Mr. Morton said.

"The NFL is committed to protecting fans and local businesses from being victimized by counterfeiters who are looking to profit illegally off of the public's enthusiasm for the NFL," NFL Vice President Anastasia Danias said. "We are grateful for Homeland Security's tireless efforts in combating intellectual property."

Yonjo Quiroa, 28, of Comstock Park, Mich., was arrested by ICE agents as part of the sweep, charged with one count of criminal infringement of a copyright related to his operation of websites that illegally streamed live game telecasts and pay-per-view events over the Internet. Mr. Quiroa operated nine of the 16 streaming websites that were seized.

Mr. Morton said American business is threatened by those who pirate copyrighted material and produce counterfeit trademarked goods. He said criminals are attempting to steal American ideas and products and sell them any way they can.

Intellectual property thieves undermine the U.S. economy, he said, adding that "American jobs are being lost, American innovation is being diluted and organized criminal enterprises are profiting from their increasing involvement."

The operation was spearheaded by the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in coordination with the Justice Department's Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section and U.S. attorneys' offices in Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, New York and Texas.

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