A sports jersey that looks like amazing bargain could be illegal knockoffLocal and federal authorities are cracking down on counterfeit merchandise sales online this holiday season. Buying knockoffs takes money away from U.S. companies and can help support organized crime in European and Asian countries, said Shawn Neudauer, spokesman for U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement in Minnesota.
By: Maricella Miranda, St. Paul Pioneer Press / MCT
When police searched the Eagan, Minn., home of Benjamin Robert Berry, they reportedly found about $77,000 worth of counterfeit sports jerseys.
The 28-year-old man told police he was buying the knockoffs from China to sell for a profit on Craigslist, according to a criminal complaint. Berry, who police said had nearly 400 jerseys on hand, now faces two felonies in the sale of counterfeit items.
He is scheduled to appear Jan. 10 in Dakota County District Court.
Local and federal authorities are cracking down on counterfeit merchandise sales online this holiday season. Buying knockoffs takes money away from U.S. companies and can help support organized crime in European and Asian countries, said Shawn Neudauer, spokesman for U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement in Minnesota.
"People think they're getting a steal when they're buying a counterfeit product," Neudauer said. "What they're stealing is -- they're stealing from American workers."
Last year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and ICE reportedly seized nearly $261 million worth of counterfeit merchandise -- a 4 percent decrease from 2008.
Federal authorities continued to step up enforcement in June with ICE's Operation In Our Sites, which began investigating counterfeit sales online. On Cyber Monday in November, the group executed seizure orders against 82 domain names for commercial websites suspected of counterfeit sales and distribution.
The sale of counterfeit jerseys is an increasing problem for the National Hockey League, said Tom Prochnow, group vice president for legal and business affairs for the NHL.
The NHL and other sports groups work with the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports Logos (CAPS), local police, and federal authorities to stop counterfeit sales.
Sports jerseys can run up to $300, Prochnow said. Fans think cheaper jerseys are a good deal, but usually the fakes have poor stitching, bad fabric and incorrect colors.
"People don't really understand they're buying fake jerseys," he said. "Our main goal is to get the word out to fans to make sure that they don't get stuck with one of these poor quality counterfeit items when they're looking for a deal that's too good to be true."
In May, a tip about racks of Twins jerseys in an Eagan garage led police to Berry, a restaurant director for Woolley's Steakhouse and American Eatery in Eagan and Cork's Irish Pub in St. Paul.
Officers arranged a meeting to buy a jersey, according to the complaint. Police then compared the item to an authentic jersey and determined it was a knockoff.
Berry declined to comment but directed media requests to his attorney, Paul Rogosheske. His client plans to plead not guilty to the charges, Rogosheske said. He did not comment on whether Berry admitted buying counterfeit jerseys.
"You'll find that investigators say a lot of things," Rogosheske said.
A man who was leaving Berry's house also told police that he sold jerseys for Berry from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and soccer's World Cup, the complaint said. The man had several jerseys in his vehicle.
The complaint said the June search of the house found 380 counterfeit jerseys. CAPS examined 359 of them and estimated their value to be $77,000.
"They're worth a lot of money," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
Dakota County prosecutors have charged two other individuals with felonies in the sale of counterfeit items since the state law was established in 1999, Backstrom said.
Police said that during questioning, Berry admitted to having other people sell counterfeits for him. Berry also said he destroyed sales records when he heard he was being investigated.
Berry has been on the federal radar since 2009, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection confiscated 11 NHL counterfeit jerseys addressed to Berry that were imported from Taiwan, the complaint said. The NHL sent Berry a warning letter but got no response.
Berry has been charged with two felonies of counterfeit intellectual property in connection with selling more than $10,000 in counterfeit items, which carries up to five years in prison, and selling more than 100 counterfeit items, which carries up to three years in prison.
Sports jersey purchase tips
--Be wary of items made of cheap materials with bad stitching and incorrect colors.
--Look for official league hologram stickers or tags with brand licensing.
--To make sure your sports jersey is authentic, go to the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports Logos at www.capsinfo.com.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.