Spota: Elaborate fashion-counterfeiting ring busted
A small but sophisticated counterfeiting ring dealing in fake fashion accessories imported millions of dollars' worth of merchandise from China over the past eight years and sold it to middlemen in the region and in several other states, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Thursday.
It took a tractor trailer and seven box trucks to carry the 1,400 cartons of phony goods that investigators seized recently from the ring's warehouse in Maspeth, Queens, Spota said. He stood in front of a table in his Hauppauge office arrayed with handbags, watches, shoes, sunglasses, jewelry, boots and other items.
"What we have before us today, as you see over here, are all items bearing well-known trademark names in the fashion industry," Spota said, moving along the table, and stopping now and then to pick up an item.
"We have Louis Vuitton. We have Coach, Prada, Kate Spade, Uggs, North Face, Tiffany's, Michael Kors, Tory Burch and others. Everything that is here on this table is counterfeit, every single piece," he said.
Investigators broke up the ring about two weeks ago, arresting four Queens residents and a New Jersey man, Spota said. The arrests "led to the dismantling of what is certainly a major national and international trademark counterfeit organization," he said.
At one point, Spota picked up a plain-looking woman's handbag imported by the ring. He then held up decorative side panels that would be attached after the bags arrived here, and showed the logos that would be embossed on the items to give them that final, fashionable touch.
The plain items did not generate interest from customs inspectors, and helped allow the ring to function for about eight years, he said.
His office began an investigation two years ago, he said. "We thought it was a very local operation . . . Very, very quickly, we developed information that we were dealing with a very, very sophisticated operation involving the importing of these goods from China by plane and by boat," he said.
He said Chee Kwan Yim, 42, Chee Kuen Yim, 39, Chee Ching Yim, 44, and Regina Ngan, 30 -- all residents of the Little Neck section of Queens -- and Anthony Moresco, 63, of Rutherford, N.J., were charged with trademark counterfeiting and, except for Ngan, with racketeering.
Each faces a court appearance in April and May after being arrested and arraigned two weeks ago. The house at 249-20 Cambria Ave. where the four Queens residents lived was seized under court order, as was about $250,000 in cash and bank accounts.
If convicted of the most serious charge, enterprise corruption, all but Ngan -- who is charged with a lesser crime -- faces 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Spota said a handbag that cost the ring $2 would be sold to the middlemen for as much as $25, and it would be sold on the street or in hair salons or other local stores for $50 to $100.
"Was this operation successful?" Spota asked rhetorically. "They have a counter," he said, pointing to a currency counting machine on the table. "That's how successful the operation was."
He said the ring was able to use cash to pay off the mortgage on the Queens home, bought jade and real jewelry as investments, and developed a side market in the Caribbean by supplying fake goods to stores and vendors at the ports of call for cruise ships.
With John Valenti