A two-year counter-terrorism and narcotics investigation moved cross-country Wednesday, with federal authorities in New York announcing the filing of charges against six people accused of trafficking in millions of dollars worth of counterfeit clothing.
The arrests come one week after authorities in Los Angeles disclosed that 12 people had been indicted in connection with an alleged counterfeiting, narcotics-trafficking and money-laundering ring centered in the downtown garment district.
None of those arrested in the case have been charged with any terrorism-related crimes, but federal and local law enforcement sources said a focus of their investigation has been the possibility that proceeds from the alleged crime rings have gone for years to Lebanon and the militant Islamic group Hezbollah.
After last week's arrests, authorities released an FBI counter-terrorism agent's sworn affidavit alleging that one suspect was detained last year at Los Angeles International Airport while attempting to smuggle $120,000 in money orders and cashier's checks hidden in a child's toy.
The suspect, the agent said, was bound for Lebanon. According to sources, the suspect has a Hezbollah tattoo on one arm and is the same man depicted in a photograph shown during testimony two years ago before a Senate committee investigating terrorism financing.
In announcing the charges Wednesday, federal prosecutors in New York said the six individuals sold the counterfeit clothing from China between August 2003 and this month in that city and other locations in the U.S. The proceeds from the illegal sales were then laundered, authorities said.
Arrested at their residences in North Bergen, N.J., were Hussein Nasser, 27; Hussein Chahine, 27; Hassan Chahine, 25; and Ali Fayad Nasser, 25.
Sam Wang, 51, a resident of Taiwan, was taken into custody in Flushing, Queens, New York.
Colin Tsai, 30, of Covina was arrested by federal agents in Los Angeles.
In a sworn complaint, New York FBI Agent Ryan C. Noonan said that the bureau, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies have been investigating the alleged ring since at least the summer of 2006.
The New York defendants, he said, were specifically under investigation for allegedly trafficking in and selling counterfeit clothing bearing various urban and hip-hop designer labels.
Law enforcement sources said the New York case arose as a result of the multi-agency counter-terrorism and drug investigation underway in Los Angeles.
According to New York authorities, Wang was responsible for the manufacturing of the apparel in China and shipped more than $19.7 million worth of allegedly counterfeit goods during a three-year period.
The complaints also allege that the clothing was taken to at least three stores in Manhattan owned and operated by Hussein Nasser, and that he and other defendants sold the items to wholesale and retail customers.
Tsai's alleged involvement was as a Los Angeles-based freight shipper who took the items from Wang and shipped them to Nasser and others in New York.
In addition to the New York arrests, sources said wiretaps and surveillance conducted during the Southland investigation resulted in the drug-trafficking indictment in Los Angeles early this month against 20 alleged members of the Campanella Park Piru Blood street gang and Black Mafia Family.