Shadow over the Super Bowl: Counterfeiting

With the big game just days away, federal agents arrest two in the Phoenix area with $140,000 worth of phony NFL and other sports merchandise.

Law-enforcement officials confiscated more than $140,000 worth of phony sports-related clothing and memorabilia from a sports memorabilia store in Glendale, Ariz., on the eve of the Super Bowl, which will be played there on Sunday.

Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an investigator under contract to the National Football League seized a signed football jersey retailing for more than $2,000 and other jerseys that supposedly bore the autographs of famous athletes.

ICE and local law enforcement have recovered more than 1,200 pieces of counterfeit sports memorabilia and clothing in the last five days, according to an announcement from ICE, an investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security that manages the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.

Most of the seized items were fake NFL merchandise, but ICE also seized counterfeit Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association jerseys and fake designer handbags and watches.

According to ICE, some vendors are unaware the merchandise is counterfeit. More often though, dealers know full well the products are fakes.

So far, investigators with ICE and the Phoenix Police Department have arrested two men and charged them with trafficking in counterfeit goods.

The seizures are part of a crackdown on intellectual property rights violations in the Phoenix area leading up to the Super Bowl. “Historically, major events such as the Super Bowl are a magnet for IPR fraud,” said ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers.

In fiscal 2007, ICE partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize nearly $200 million in counterfeit or pirated merchandise nationwide.

During that same period, ICE and CBP made more than 13,600 IPR seizures, resulting in 241 arrests, 149 indictments, and 134 criminal convictions.

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