A record $37.8 million in counterfeit NFL and Super Bowl game tickets and merchandise have been seized nationwide by law enforcement agencies, officials announced Thursday.
Federal and state agencies also arrested 76 people nationwide in the "Team Player" undercover operation that led up to the Super Bowl at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium, according to figures released by federal officials in Washington yesterday morning.
Homeland Security agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement police conducted an eight-month surveillance with arrest sweeps at flea markets and NFL events. Distributors who marketed fake Adidas-labeled Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson jerseys and hats, phony Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks T-shirts and other Super Bowl gear were charged with selling counterfeit merchandise, officials said.
"This is organized crime," said Andrew McLees, special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations in New Jersey. "We were watching who was selling this stuff and going back to their vans to find their distributors.
"We moved up the chain from the low-level guy and found that a lot of these proceeds came from organized criminal organizations that smuggle not only counterfeit knock-offs, but also people, drugs and firearms," McLees said.
This year's operation seized $20 million more in merchandise than last year's -- the most ever in the six years the agencies have worked to shut down the black market that sells fake Super Bowl and NFL merchandise and game tickets, said Justin Cole, spokesman for the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.