Special agents and officers seize more than $4.8 million in fake NFL merchandise and seize 307 websites during 'Operation Fake Sweep'
INDIANAPOLIS — Speaking at a National Football League (NFL) news conference on Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Director of Field Operations in Chicago David Murphy and NFL Vice President for Legal Affairs Anastasia Danias announced the record-breaking results of a nationwide enforcement operation targeting stores, flea markets and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear throughout the country. Special agents and officers also targeted illegal counterfeit imports into the United States, and seized hundreds of websites engaged in counterfeiting and piracy online. The initiative, dubbed Operation Fake Sweep, commenced Oct. 1, 2011.
Fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing confiscated by teams comprised of: ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Indiana State Police – all in partnership with the NFL.
'Hard goods' seizures
Special agents from HSI and officers with CBP operated in multiple teams with the NFL and various law enforcement agencies throughout the nation to identify illegal shipments imported into the U.S., as well as stores and vendors selling counterfeit trademarked items. With three days left before Super Bowl XLVI, these teams have already seized 42,692 items of phony Super Bowl-related memorabilia along with other counterfeit items to date for a total take of more than $4.8 million – up from $3.72 million last year.
During this operation, an additional 22,570 items of counterfeit merchandise and clothing representing other sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League were seized by law enforcement. In total, this operation netted 65,262 counterfeit items worth $6.4 million.
"While most people are focusing on whether the Patriots or Giants will win on Sunday, we at ICE have our sights on a different type of victory: defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event, the NFL, its players and sports fans," said ICE Director Morton. "In sports, players must abide by rules of the game, and in life, individuals must follow the laws of the land. Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it's the law."
"The NFL is committed to protecting fans and local businesses from being victimized by counterfeiters who are looking to profit illegally off of the public's enthusiasm for the NFL," said NFL Vice President Danias. "We are grateful for Homeland Security Investigations' tireless efforts in combating intellectual property theft and are pleased to be working along with them and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on this important issue."
Furthering HSI efforts to combat counterfeiting and piracy online, special agents seized a total of 307 websites. Sixteen of the sites illegally streamed live sporting telecasts over the Internet, including NFL games. Two hundred ninety-one website domain names were illegally selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise.
Additionally, Yonjo Quiroa, 28, of Comstock Park, Mich., was arrested Wednesday by special agents with HSI. He is charged with one count of criminal infringement of a copyright related to his operation of websites that illegally streamed live sporting event telecasts and pay-per-view events over the Internet. Quiroa operated nine of the 16 streaming websites that were seized, and he operated them from his home in Michigan until yesterday's arrest.
The website seizures during Operation Fake Sweep represent the 10th phase of Operation In Our Sites, a sustained law enforcement initiative targeting counterfeiting and piracy on the Internet. The 307 websites are in the process of being seized by law enforcement, and will soon be in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will then find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime.
American business is threatened by those who pirate copyrighted material and produce counterfeit trademarked goods. Criminals are attempting to steal American ideas and products and sell them over the Internet, in flea markets, in legitimate retail outlets and elsewhere. Intellectual property (IP) thieves undermine the U.S. economy and jeopardize public safety. American jobs are being lost, American innovation is being diluted â€“ and organized criminal enterprises are profiting from their increasing involvement in IP theft.
Since the launch of Operation In Our Sites in June 2010, the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) has seized a total of 669 domain names.
Operation Fake Sweep continues
Operation Fake Sweep will continue this weekend at Super Bowl events and venues throughout the Indianapolis-area and around the nation.
HSI, CBP, USPIS and other law enforcement agencies partnered with the HSI-led IPR Center to combat intellectual property theft, including the illegal use of registered trademarks, trade names and copyrights of NFL Super Bowl XLVI merchandise. The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
The operation was spearheaded by the IPR Center in coordination with the Department of Justice's Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and seven U.S. Attorneys' Offices, including: District of Colorado, District of Maryland, District of Minnesota, Western District of Michigan, Southern District of New York, Southern District of Texas and Western District of Texas.
To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.