- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have seized more than 20,000 counterfeit goods — including phony National Football League jerseys and caps — valued at more than $5 million at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., arresting three persons in an undercover probe known as “Operation End Zone.”

Working with the NFL and investigators from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said the agents targeted criminal organizations and persons over the past year who used local business establishments to sell the counterfeit merchandise in the months and days leading up to the Super Bowl.

The effort intensified as game day approached, he said.

Mr. Boyd said ICE agents, NFL investigators and local authorities received substantial assistance from the Jacksonville business community in identifying those involved in selling the counterfeit goods. He said investigators seized thousands of phony NFL jerseys, caps and other souvenirs sold for cut-rate prices at flea markets and souvenir stands, and from the backs of vehicles.

In a single, two-day enforcement action last month, Mr. Boyd said agents and officers seized more than 5,500 counterfeit items, including knockoff NFL properties, Oakley-brand sunglasses, batteries and purses from vendors in Jacksonville. To date, he said, Operation End Zone has resulted in the seizure of more than 20,000 counterfeit goods, which have filled local law-enforcement warehouses.

Mr. Boyd said Operation End Zone was an example of ICE’s ongoing effort to enforce Intellectual Property Rights laws nationwide. As recently as last May, then U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick estimated that the nation loses between $200 billion and $250 billion to counterfeiting every year, he said.

As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Boyd said ICE plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. In fiscal 2004, he said, ICE agents arrested 218 persons and brought 140 indictments for Intellectual Property Rights violations, roughly double the 132 arrests and 70 indictments brought by ICE the prior fiscal year.

At the same time, he said, ICE agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers together seized 7,255 counterfeit goods worth $138 million in fiscal 2004, up from the 6,500 seizures worth $94 million the year before. Together, ICE and CBP seized more than $600 million worth of counterfeit goods from fiscal 1998 through fiscal 2004.

Mr. Boyd noted that in the initial phases of Operation End Zone, the ICE National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in Washington, and the ICE Office of Investigations in Jacksonville produced a brochure on counterfeit goods in conjunction with the NFL. The brochure and other materials were issued to more than 100 businesses involved in the import/export of commodities and local sales.

He said the brochure also was included in the Super Bowl Host Committee’s magazine and distributed widely to solicit help from the public and from those authorized to sell Super Bowl merchandise. ICE agents in Jacksonville also conducted outreach presentations to educate business community leaders about the anti-counterfeiting initiative.

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