Goods worth more than $40 million were confiscated by Nassau police early last week and Lindsay Castelli, of Smithtown, has been charged with trademark counterfeiting in the second degree. Credit: Danielle Silverman

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Ken Schachter and Darwin Yanes. It was written by Brodsky and Schachter.

A highly "sophisticated" counterfeit fashion ring, allegedly selling tens of millions in fraudulent designer clothes, was broken up last week by Nassau County police from a boutique in Plainview, part of a growing billion dollar national enterprise that experts contend defrauds both manufacturers and consumers.

County and U.S. postal officials Tuesday announced the Oct. 4 seizure of more than $40 million in counterfeit items from Linny's Boutique in Plainview, along with the arrest of the shop's owner, Lindsay Castelli, 31, of Smithtown. The seizure was the conclusion of an 18-month law enforcement investigation into the business.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the boutique — which also sold items online under the name Christian Salvatore New York — would take a $3 hat and heat seal it with a counterfeit logo and resell the hat for $300. In retail value, more than $10 million worth of Chanel, roughly $4.5 million of Gucci and more than $25 million of Louis Vuitton counterfeits were confiscated.

Lindsay Castelli

Lindsay Castelli Credit: NCPD

"The store contained thousands of synthetic heat sealed counterfeit Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Dior and labels purchased from China," Ryder said at a news conference in Bethpage with what police described as "thousands of pounds" of confiscated shirts, hats, sweaters, beanies and printing press machines.

Castelli surrendered to the county asset forfeiture detectives on Friday and is charged with second-degree trademark counterfeiting. Castelli, who was released with a desk appearance ticket and is due back in court on Nov. 2, faces up to 1 1/3 to three years in prison if convicted. Information on any attorney representing her was unavailable Tuesday.

Castelli could not be reached for comment. On Instagram, the store was listed as being closed "until further notice."

"This was not a mom and pop operation," said Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly. "This was a sophisticated operation operating two fashion merchandise companies."

U.S. Postal Inspector Glen McKechnie said the counterfeit goods were shipped and sold across the country through two company websites that Castelli maintained.

"Not only did she cheat the retail industry, but she also cheated postal customers that must ultimately shoulder the costly burden," he said.

Fashion counterfeiting poses a multibillion dollar challenge to law enforcement and the brands that are copied, said Susan Scafidi, a professor at Fordham University Law School and director of the Fashion Law Institute. 

Yet the scope of the problem, she said, is elusive.

One estimate put lost jobs at 363,000 and lost annual sales in Europe’s clothing, footwear and accessories sector at $25.5 billion, according to the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

“It’s unfortunately quite lucrative,” Scafidi said, noting that counterfeiters "don't keep books."

Scafidi said counterfeit goods run the gamut from pharmaceuticals to brake pads to airplane parts, and evidence suggests that in some cases, profits have been used to support terrorism.

In the case of fashion, demand is driven by social and psychological factors, Scafidi said.

“Fashion branding is a form of tribalism,” she said. “It’s not that people want any old brand. They want the brand. It’s a form of status seeking. It’s a way of identifying with the brand of the designer.”

Fashion counterfeits tend to be priced at 5% to 20% of the genuine article, she said, providing economic incentive for consumers who knowingly — or unknowingly — purchase knockoffs.

Manufacturers have responded by forming brand protection teams that seek to monitor traffic in fake goods and work with payment processors, online marketplaces and law enforcement to foil counterfeiters.

“It’s an arms race,” Scafidi said.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said counterfeiting operations won't be tolerated.

"We want people to know exactly what they're getting," he said. "We want businesses around the world to know that we protect their trademark and service mark here."

With Joan Gralla

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