- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2011

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, assisted by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, have seized more than 36,000 phony Super Bowl-related items nationwide along with other counterfeit goods worth $3.56 million — including $554,280 in bogus goods in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The law enforcement initiative, dubbed “Operation Interception,” began Jan. 1 and involved multiple law enforcement partners targeting stores, flea markets and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear throughout the United States.

The operation was announced Friday by ICE Deputy Director Kumar Kibble and Anastasia Danias, NFL vice president for legal affairs, during a National Football League (NFL) press conference in Dallas.

“These counterfeit enforcement operations between ICE and our partners serve a variety of important purposes,” said Mr. Kibble. “They protect American jobs by enforcing trademarks; they protect consumers from inferior merchandise; and they prevent funding potential criminal organizations.”

Fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs were among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing confiscated by teams comprised of investigators and agents from ICE, the NFL, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other law enforcement agencies.

Furthering ICE efforts to combat counterfeiting and piracy online, Mr. Kibble said agents seized 10 websites earlier this week that illegally streamed live sporting telecasts over the Internet, including NFL games. He said the websites were among the most popular on the Internet for illegally distributing copyrighted sporting events.

Mr. Kibble said ICE has estimated that each year, sports leagues and broadcasters lose millions of dollars from illegally distributing copyrighted, live sporting events over the Internet. Such piracy threatens the investment that broadcasters and digital media companies are willing to make to distribute live content.

“We greatly appreciate the incredible efforts, time and resources that ICE Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have dedicated to the problem of counterfeiting and online piracy,” said Mr. Danias. “We believe that these criminal enforcement actions send an important message to those who criminally knock-off and pirate intellectual property rights.”

The operation will continue this weekend at Super Bowl events and venues throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area and around the nation.

As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. Mr. Kibble said the agency focuses on keeping counterfeit products off U.S. streets and on dismantling the criminal organizations behind them.

ICE, the NFL, CBP and other law enforcement agencies partnered with the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Virginia to combat intellectual property theft, including the illegal use of registered trademarks, trade names and copyrights of NFL Super Bowl XLV merchandise.

The IPR Center is managed by ICE and plays a pivotal role in the U.S. government’s domestic and international law enforcement attack on IPR violations. Its enforcement efforts during the last three Super Bowls have resulted in the seizure of more than 30,000 items with an estimated value of nearly $2.8 million. Those amounts, coupled with the 2011 record-breaking results of “Operation Interception,” ICE has seized more than 66,000 counterfeit items worth $6.36 million over the past four years.

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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