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Yes, He Sold Fakes. They Are Supposed to Be Fake

Published: August 24, 2011. New York Times. [link]

The items, mostly copies of luxury objects, inside the little shop in downtown Manhattan are made of thin cardboard and might not even pass muster deep in the background of a movie set.

But that did not deter the police from arresting a shop worker on counterfeiting charges for selling several items, including Louis Vuitton and Burberry handbags.

There is just one problem: the items are supposed to be fake.

The store, Fook On Sing Funeral Supplies, on Mulberry Street along what is known in Chinatown as Funeral Row, sells traditional objects of mourning, mostly copies of luxury objects. The items are made of cardboard, paper and plastic, to be used at funerals as symbolic gifts for the deceased. The cardboard models are burned as part of traditional Chinese funeral practices.

The store sells a cardboard mansion for $400 and a cardboard flat-screen television for $40. There are stacks of money ($10,000 bills) for sale, as well as miniature sports cars, cellphones, double-breasted suits and even smiling dolls to act as servants in the hereafter.

"When people die, they feel they are going to need things in the next world," explained one of the store's owners, Amy Mak-Chan, who is the arrested man's aunt. "They might want a car and a house and other nice things. People buy these things here, to give them as gifts at the funeral."

A police spokesman on Wednesday would only offer information from the arrest report, including that the worker who was arrested on Tuesday, Wing Sun Mak, was observed offering to sell three handbags "that bore a counterfeit trademark Burberry" and one handbag that bore a fake Louis Vuitton insignia. He was also observed offering for sale four pairs of shoes and two outfits.

Mr. Mak said that a man in street clothes entered the store and seemed particularly interested in the handbags and loafers, obviously cardboard, that have print designs that vaguely resemble Louis Vuitton's and Gucci's.

"He asked me, ‘How much is this?' " recalled Mr. Mak, pointing to a handbag on display. "I said $20, and he pulled out his badge and said, ‘Are you selling this to me?' And then he arrested me."

He was held overnight in a local precinct house and then arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street, several blocks from the store, before being released.

He was charged with two counts of copyright infringement in the third degree. Jonathan L. Stonbely, a lawyer from Legal Aid assigned to Mr. Mak, said that he was prepared to defend his client against the charges and that he had rejected an offer from prosecutors to allow Mr. Mak to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and pay a $100 fine.

Ms. Mak-Chan said that the items offered to the dead change with the times.

"We never thought that updating things would go against America's laws," she said.

After he was handcuffed and escorted into a police van, Mr. Mak said, the police went on to arrest other people in Chinatown who seemed to be hawking items that more closely resembled designer products.

In the wake of their fellow worker's arrest, store employees on Wednesday said they were outraged and a bit jittery. On a four-foot-long cardboard sports car, they used Post-It notes to cover a blue and white design that resembled the BMW insignia.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the neighborhood and was contacted by the store's owners for help, said she had requested a meeting with police officials.

"You expect the police to be culturally sensitive," Ms. Chin said. "This has been going on for hundreds of years, the Chinese burning offerings to the dead, and that's what these kind of stores are for. It's hard to understand how someone could mistake this for criminal activity."

Suki Lin, the wife of the arrested man, picked up her own Coach handbag. "It's real," she said, a gift from her husband. She motioned toward a cardboard bag and said, "If he gave me that bag, I'd beat him to death."


Copyright 2011 The New York Times Company

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