A father and two sons were arraigned Friday after authorities seized 10,000 counterfeit e-cigarettes and other bogus vaping products worth $1.5 million from their homes and four stores they own on Long Island.
Authorities speaking at a Mineola news conference Friday said they also seized $140,000 cash and two vehicles used to carry the black market goods. The joint investigation between federal and local agencies has also frozen 30 bank accounts that remain under investigation.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the men have sold some $4 million worth of these illegal products over the past two years. These phony vaping products represent a potential health threat to users because they were not tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ryder pointed to instances, unrelated to this case, in which e-cigarettes have exploded in people's pockets or near their faces while they were smoking.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said these imitation products are particularly worrisome because the packaging matches the legitimate vaping products made by the company Logic. Authorities are sending the products for testing to find out what is in them.
"You don't know what kind of poison you're putting in your body," Curran said. "We want to make sure we're getting this stuff off the shelves, making sure that our young people aren't ingesting it — that nobody is ingesting it."
Police say the three men — the father Ali Asghar, 58; son, Ali Zar, 33, both of East Meadow; and the other son, Ali Moosa, 35, of Bellerose - have been importing the goods from China for two years, making some $4 million. They also said the illicit sale of these electronic cigarettes, especially popular among young people, is growing.
The three men were arrested Thursday and charged with trademark counterfeiting first degree, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The attorney for the three men, Kevin O'Donnell, said his clients maintain their innocence.
"They look forward to their day in court," said O'Donnell, of Kew Gardens. "I think the government is going to have a hard time proving they knew they were dealing with counterfeit products."
Police said the men sold the goods in Card Smart stores in Levittown, East Meadow and Commack and a Smoke and Vape Store in East Meadow. The men, who own those stores, also sold the products on internet sites, such as eBay, police said.
The men all pleaded not guilty at the arraignment and remain in custody. Bail was set at $25,000 or $12,500 cash. The men are here in the country legally, police said. The judge ordered them to surrender their passports.
The investigation, which began early this year, included Nassau County police and district attorney’s office, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the New York City Police Department.
Anthony Hemsley, a representative from Logic, released a statement after the arrests, saying the company cooperated in the investigation.
"Those involved in buying and selling counterfeit products don't care what they sell or to whom they sell it," he said. "It undermines all the efforts we take to ensure the quality of our products and that they do not get into the hands of underage individuals."