Selling designer knockoffs is a
The security guard at the Rancho Indoor Swap Meet a stale 1971 stump of a building smacked onto 10 acres of aching asphalt is straight certain there isn’t any counterfeit merchandise being sold under his watch.
“Yeah,” he says, clutching a side holster cell phone, “none of that stuff here.”
“Actually, there is,” says Metro Sgt. Prokopios Ziros , a cop who likes to keep things clipped.
And there was.
With some merchants wailing and others looking resigned, more than $400,000 in counterfeit merchandise would b air max 95 e pulled from the swap meet floor before this day was over, by police and private investigators trained in identifying illegal knockoffs.
The loot would include at least 100 pairs of fake Nike sneakers, boxes of pirated DVDs, at least 18 phony platinum Playboy pendants, too many pleather purses to count, really, and piles of flimsy clothing, clamoring to look like something dear.
On closer inspection, a shirt that should be branded “G Unit” across the front really says “G Unot.”
Edward Norton, a private investigator and counterfeit consultant, is explaining swap meet raids to 10 civilians he has hired to be his undercover investigators. In a west Las Vegas police station, they strategize the bust how to walk, how to talk, how to fake out the merchants who operate the slotted stores, stalls built from particle board and secured with blue plastic tarp.
“Stroll in just like you’re shopping. Amble to your booths. You’re shopping , people that’s all you’re doing,” he instructs. He invites store owners to obligingly give up their illegal goods in exchange for a warning. Or, he says, you can balk and face criminal charges. Most merchants get it.
Norton is an expert in designer fakery, prone to pull a pair of women’s pants off a shelf for a tutorial air max 95 in double stitching. Counterfeiters can’t afford the heavy needle needed to reinforce thick seams, he says, running his finger over the fly of a pair of girl’s jeans that were proved phony.
He foams at the thought of coming upon a cache of pirated movies that’s a felony, friends.
“The store owners are going to try to lie to you,” Norton says. “They’re going to try all kinds of things.”
When Norton is certain someone is selling fake goods, he enlists Ziros’ Metro unit to run the raid securing search warrants, scolding reluctant shop owners and arresting those who refuse cooperation.
This day, they target 10 vendors from whom Norton has bought fake merchandise at least three times this month, just so he can be sure.
But he doesn’t have to buy to be certain. Some vendors unabashedly display the goods, hanging them in plastic wrap from the warped ceiling.
When he’s ready to raid, Norton draws up a map and assembles his men, who are trained to identify sure fire signs of designer forgery: badly printed logos, purses without silk linings, European watches made in China.
The team members walk casually in purposeful pairs, straight to a predetermined shop, where they briefly pretend to browse. When everyone is in place, a secret set of signals is exchanged and the shopp air max 95 ers reveal themselves: “Hello, we’re anti piracy and counterfeit investigators.”
By this time, police have air max 95 moved into place on the outside perimeter, should a seller dash out the door (it’s happened before) or put up a fight.
The vendors swallow hard.
A sweating man selling music CDs on shelves in a n 8 by 10 foot stall says he would rather be arrested than give up his goods. The cops shrug, cuff his wrists behind his back and comb through his racks. They confiscate $700 in CDs and say they’ll seek to charge him with 108 counts of unlawful reproduction or sale of sound recordings.
What gave him away? Well, how many CDs really come with 43 tracks and a photocopied cover cut on a jagged edge? Where’s the shrink wrap? The security seal?
All of a sudden, the man’s sorry and trying to make a deal. No dice.
The International Anti Counterfeiting Coalition estimates global counterfeit sales generate $600 billion annually, accounting for 6 percent or 7 percent of world trade. Because designer product cachet is part ly based on price, high end retailers are desperate to clamp down on the knockoffs, which sully brand names by eroding exclusivity. Counterfeit items likely come to Las Vegas through a Southern California pipeline of knockoffs from China, Hong Kong and Mexico, Norton says.