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PLACENTIA

In the Jeans: Family Held in Sale of Fakes

May 19, 1999|JASON KANDEL and MEGAN GARVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Placentia police arrested a family of three Tuesday for allegedly running a counterfeiting ring that sold phony designer clothes out of their home. Nearly 9,000 designer labels, including Disney and Guess?, were seized in the raid as well as an estimated $25,000 worth of knockoff Levi's jeans and fake Tommy Hilfiger shirts.

The bust came about after private investigators for San Francisco-based Levi Strauss Co. received a tip that the home on Depot Street was operating as an illicit store.

In what has become an increasingly common partnership between private companies and law enforcement, the private investigators purchased a pair of the counterfeit jeans at the house earlier this month before notifying Placentia police of their suspicions.

Levi's officials said they conduct 2,000 investigations worldwide a year.

Police who served search warrants on the residence Tuesday said the home was a makeshift store complete with an assembly area where they allegedly found the couple and their grown son stapling labels to clothes. The trio were arrested on suspicion of selling counterfeit goods.

Placentia detectives withheld the names of the three, saying they hoped to uncover the identity of their supplier.

Police allege that the family took in about $500 a week--a drop in the bucket for an illegal industry that federal prosecutors say costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars a year.

Mike Fleming, a spokesman for U.S. Customs in Los Angeles, said counterfeit merchandise is a "hugely significant problem" for American business.

"It is in no way a victimless crime," Fleming said. "It has a multiple effect on business regarding the reputation of their product and the loss of sales and it may cost legitimate American workers their jobs if it damages the companies they work for." While counterfeit garments often come from out of the country, the source of the items seized in this case is unknown.

Placentia police said this week's bust might lead to more arrests in the region, and described the family's alleged operation as significant.

"This is a big find for this city," Det. Brian Yamaguchi said.

Police said the suspects allegedly sold the jeans from their home as well as door-to-door and to swap-meet vendors. Authorities allege they bought the pants for about $15 and sold them for $18 to $20. A neighbor told police he began noticing unusual numbers of visitors to the home about a year ago.

Among the labels confiscated on Tuesday were: 7,006 Levi's, and 1,056 Levi's rivets, 1,080 Guess?, 18 Tommy Hilfiger, 836 Levi's buttons, 252 Converse, 141 Reebok, 99 Disney, and six Fila.

Some of the labels were found inside pants and shirt pockets.

Under state law, anyone caught selling counterfeit goods faces a $50,000 fine as well as a possible year in prison. In addition, federal charges could be brought in the case if it is proved the goods were smuggled into the U.S., customs officials said.

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