Fake designer goods worth millions seized in borough

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Police from the 102nd Precinct responding to a routine burglary call at a Richmond Hill warehouse put an end to one of the largest counterfeit trademark operations in city history when they stumbled across more than $6 million in counterfeit designer goods, prosecutors said Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of fake designer items, piled high to the ceiling of the two-story 91st Avenue warehouse, were seized by investigators, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said at a news conference Friday.

If the merchandise were authentic, it would retail for $46 million, he said.

Early on Dec. 29, police responded to a call of an open gate at a 91st Street cinder block warehouse. They determined that a truck had backed into the gate, leaving it unsecured.

Officer Mario Desruisseaux and Sgt. Brian Hunt entered the warehouse in search of a telephone number so they could call the owner to come and fix the gate. At this point, the investigation was quite routine, but their focus quickly shifted.

While inside, they noticed open cardboard boxes covered with Chinese letters overflowing with what were apparently Italian handbags.

Capt. Thomas Cea, Desruisseaux’s boss, noted that the officer is a sharp dresser and is familiar with the best Italian brands.

Detectives found hundreds of thousands of fake name-brand sunglasses, garments, leather belts, handbags and wallets, all determined by investigators to be of inferior quality to the genuine articles, Brown said.

Among the items seized were more than 300,000 pairs of fake Oakley sunglasses, which were neither ultra-violet ray resistant nor shatterproof as the authentic ones are. They also found about 10,000 counterfeit Louis Vitton leather handbags and nearly 7,000 fake clothing items bearing brand names such as Fubu, Tommy Hilfiger and Christian Dior, the DA said.

Police discovered various assembling and stamping machines, including one that was apparently used to stamp sunglasses with fake brand name logos.

“This is definitely one of the top three counterfeit seizures in New York City history,” said Richard Lombardi, a private investigator from Johnathan White & Associates, who was representing designers in the case.

Brown said the items were destined for sale by street vendors in Chinatown and Midtown Manhattan at prices a fraction of their market value.

“It cheats the consumer by providing the consumer with inferior products,” said Brown. “But the thing that bothers me most, we’re all cheated because this stuff is sold without sales tax.”

As detectives scoured the warehouse, Chan Kwong Nam, 26, of 358 Broome St. in Manhattan and Lee Koon, 42, of 1138 Allerton Ave. in the Bronx, arrived and admitted responsibility for the property in the warehouse, police said.

The two, who had rented the warehouse for four years from Joseph Cetra, were arrested and charged with first-degree trademark counterfeiting. Cetra was not charged.

They pleaded not guilty in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens and were released on $75,000 bail each. If convicted, they could each face up to 15 years in jail.

Daniel Gotlin, an attorney for the two accused men, said “there is an over-exaggeration of the value of the goods in question.”

He also expressed skepticism at methods used by the police. “I have a real question as to the legality of the search of the premises,” Gotlin said. “The place was searched without a warrant. They searched the place and then they obtained a warrant.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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