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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Man Held on Suspicion of Selling Bogus Vintage Levi's

November 22, 2000|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — An Israeli man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of altering used $10 jeans to make them appear 35 years old and then reselling them at Melrose Avenue shops for as much as $400 a pair.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Pamela Johnston said Avihail Kocklani, 45, also is charged with violating the terms of an injunction, granted earlier, prohibiting him from engaging in such practices.

Federal officials said that in November 1999, investigators for Levi Strauss began looking into suspicious sales of used Levi's at four retail stores on Melrose.

All four stores, Banini Accessories at 7312 Melrose; Bianini at 7314 Melrose; Slique at 7518 Melrose; and Kolani at 7664 Melrose, are owned by ZHK Inc. Federal officials said Kocklani is corporate director of ZHK and his mother is president of the firm.

According to a criminal affidavit, undercover buys at the stores turned up jeans in which the stitching, riveting, tags and leather patches had been altered, added or replaced to make the pants appear to be vintage.

"Five-year-old 501 Levis are worth about $10," Johnston said. "Some of the jeans from the 1960s look a lot like them, but there are little differences that make them worth a lot of money."

Investigators said they found a washer, dryer, riveting machine and sewing machines believed used to alter the denim pants.

Agents said they moved swiftly to arrest Kocklani at his temporary home in Tarzana because of concerns that he may have been about to flee the country. They said in the affidavit that about 50 bank accounts in his name had recently been stripped and showed "extremely low balances."

In May 1998, Levi Strauss sued Kocklani and other defendants, complaining of federal trademark infringement.

"You cannot alter someone's trademarks, those tags and patches and rivets, to make them look like something they're not," Johnston said.

She said a federal judge ordered Kocklani and the other defendants to pay the company $1 million, but the judgment has never been paid. The judge also ordered the defendants to cease such infringements, and Johnston said the contempt charge stems from their failure to do so.

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