Seven domain names were seized in an operation by US government authorities as well as more than $896,000 in proceeds from the distribution of counterfeit sports apparel as the result of an investigation into the sale of counterfeit goods on commercial websites.
The operation, by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) and the Department of Justice took the number of domain names seized in similar operations to a total of 758 for websites engaged in the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods and illegal copyrighted works in Operation In Our Sites, the agencies announced Tuesday.
The most recent operation also saw the seizure of more than $896,000 in proceeds from the alleged criminal activities from interbank accounts and three PayPal accounts.
The investigation by ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is a result of Operation In Our Sites, which targets online commercial intellectual property crime, and began in June 2010. Operation In Our Sites targets online retailers for a diverse array of counterfeit goods, including sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel, sunglasses and DVD boxed sets.
“Counterfeiting and intellectual property theft are seriously undermining U.S. business and innovation,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Consumers are at risk, American industry is harmed and U.S. jobs are lost. As a country, we can ill afford the toll that intellectual property theft exacts on our economy and industries. Operation In Our Sites and the related efforts of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center are critical to combating intellectual property crime and consumer fraud over the Internet.”
According to court documents, investigation by federal law enforcement officers revealed that several subjects whose domain names had been seized in a November 2010 through Operation In Our Sites continued to sell counterfeit goods using new domain names. In particular, the individuals, based in China, sold counterfeit professional and collegiate sports apparel, primarily counterfeit sports jerseys. Law enforcement officers made numerous undercover purchases from the websites associated with the new domain names. After the goods were confirmed to be counterfeit or infringing, seizure warrants for seven domain names used to sell the goods were obtained from a U.S. magistrate judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The individuals conducted sales and processed payments for the counterfeit goods using PayPal accounts and then wired their proceeds to bank accounts held at Chinese banks. Pursuant to warrants issued by a U.S. district judge, law enforcement officers seized $826,883 in proceeds that had been transferred from PayPal accounts to various bank accounts in China. The funds were seized from correspondent, or interbank, accounts held by the Chinese banks in the United States. Pursuant to additional seizure warrants issued by a U.S. magistrate judge, law enforcement officers also seized $69,504 in funds remaining in three PayPal accounts used by the subjects.
“We are working hard to protect American businesses and consumers from the damaging effects of intellectual property crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “This investigation disrupted an online counterfeit goods operation, and also struck at the heart of the criminal enterprise by seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal profits. The Justice Department, together with our partners at ICE, will continue to do all that we can to punish and deter the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods.”
“Those who traffic in counterfeit goods harm the American economy as well as the consumers who purchase the substandard merchandise,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Seizing the domain names of these unscrupulous operators was one big step, and seizing their ill-gotten proceeds should send them another message that these counterfeit sales will not be tolerated.”
The investigation was conducted by the IPR Center and HSI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Hooks and Diane Lucas, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Katharine Wagner of the District of Columbia; Senior Trial Attorney Pamela Hicks of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; and Trial Attorney Thomas Dougherty of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, HSI plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. HSI focuses not only on keeping counterfeit products off our streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such illicit activity.
HSI manages the IPR Center in Washington. The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.