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Knocking Down the Knockoffs : A Private Eye Makes Like a Chameleon to Track Down Counterfeit Goods

December 18, 1995|JOSEPH HANANIA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

So Fernandez sent in Buckner laden with a shopping bag full of Christmas ornaments, just like a genuine seasonal customer. It worked; Buckner was shown the goods. On the basis of this, and similar evidence collected at two adjoining shops, Fernandez and Rodriguez obtained warrants to search the three stores.

Soon, McGill was setting up the raid, diagraming the action for the three squad cars like a football coach. Moments later, Fernandez, Buckner and Holdridge were behind the merchants' counters, collecting and counting their booty.

Amid all of this, Ajaz Ramzan (Mr. AZ) insisted to a reporter, "They're wrong targeting me. I was told that [the watches] are real. I don't consider myself a criminal."

Ramzan's landlord, Bob Waknine, who happened to be on the premises, was equally indignant, phoning his lawyer and insisting he had the right to close down and throw out the police and investigators. Waknine pointed to the stores he rents out. "These merchants have been suffering [economically] all year. They're behind on the rent, and now that it's the busy season, they're being busted. How are they going to pay? We don't sell dirty magazines here. I don't allow it. And when we call the cops for a shoplifter, they're never there. So why are the cops here now?" he demanded.

As a result of the confiscated evidence, however, the principals of all three shops were charged with knowingly possessing counterfeit goods for sale.

*

Since AZ Watches and neighboring Ali's Gifts were in possession of fewer than 1,000 allegedly counterfeit items, their proprietors were ticketed for misdemeanors, which carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Nearby Gul's Gift Shop, however, had more than 1,000 allegedly counterfeit items, raising the charge against proprietor Habibullah Hemani to a felony, with a maximum prison term of three years and a $250,000 fine. Hemani declined comment.

For Fernandez, the raid was all in a day's work. Tomorrow, he might put on another fake accent, change his sneakers for leather dress shoes and talk through closed doors or mail slots to another "merchant" or "wholesaler" or "distributor." Although he thrives on the fast pace, he concedes that, "It's getting tough out there. People these days are so suspicious. It didn't used to be like this.

"Honest."

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