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Counterfeiters Favored Nike, and Obama, Too

April 25, 2009. New York Times. [link]

The more than 100,000 counterfeit items seized this week from a warehouse in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, included the usual fare of fake designer clothes and handbags. But besides the counterfeit Ralph Lauren shirts, Coach purses and other items found in rented storage spaces inside the warehouse, there were 17 pairs of fake Nike sneakers that bore not only the company's swoosh logo, but also somber images of President Obama wearing a suit and tie.

''It's frankly just disrespectful to have the president of the United States depicted on these sneakers,'' said District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who held a news conference at the Stop and Store warehouse Friday morning. ''Just absolutely disgraceful.''

Mr. Hynes said arrests were made of six people who were involved in a counterfeiting ring that operated out of the storage warehouse. The authorities also confiscated $20 million worth of counterfeit merchandise from 118 rented spaces inside the warehouse.

In addition to a likeness of the president, the fake Nike sneakers bore a round logo used by the Obama campaign as well as the words ''change'' and ''yes we can.''

Mr. Hynes said an undercover investigator working for his office rented a space a year ago at the storage building, on 63rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, posing as a dealer in counterfeit goods. Eventually that investigator was able to penetrate the ring, which was operating out of spaces in the same building.

Officers from the State Police and the Waterfront Commission participated in the investigation. The fake items were made in China, Mr. Hynes said, and distributed from the warehouse, which he described as ''a citywide hub'' that provided bulk merchandise to retailers.

Kai Fong Chen, 39, and Min Min Zheng, 24, were charged with second-degree trademark counterfeiting, a felony. Four other people were charged with counterfeiting misdemeanors.

A table near Mr. Hynes was heaped with items that had been seized. There were knockoff Dooney & Bourke wallets and T-shirts bearing tattoo designs. A pair of fake True Religion designer jeans, replete with a patch showing an image of a Buddha-like figure strumming a guitar, sat near a bright blue velour warm-up jacket bearing the Liberty Bell logo of the Philadelphia 76ers. There were foam baseball caps emblazoned with rhinestones and slogans like ''eternal love,'' and a pair of gold-striped black pants.

A tour of some of the storage areas -- ranging from about 5 feet by 5 feet in size to 10 feet by 30 -- revealed spaces where black plastic trash bags containing fake Gucci and Prada handbags were crammed onto floor-to-ceiling metal shelves. Other storage spaces were arranged more like showrooms, with luggage hanging from walls or sneakers arranged in careful rows atop cardboard boxes. Bits of metal locks, broken during a raid, were scattered on the cement floor.

Mr. Hynes said the investigation into the counterfeit ring was continuing and would not be limited to the distributors. He said his office had seized business ledgers kept at the warehouse and warned that those who purchased the counterfeit goods there would not escape scrutiny.

''This time we have books and records,'' he said. ''The people who have been dealing with this crowd are going to be at risk as well.''


Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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