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Feds arrest 29 in drug, counterfeit ring

Nearly 30 people have been arrested because of their alleged involvement in a smuggling ring, and they face a variety of felony charges, including drug charges. Their arrests reportedly led to the recovery of more than $300 million in goods, which federal officials said is one of the largest hauls ever.

The investigation began after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Northern Virginia received a tip that fake designer boots and handbags, cigarettes and more were entering the United States.

That tip led to the arrests of 29 people, who were charged with importing methamphetamine, trafficking in counterfeit merchandise, conspiracy and money laundering. The drug charges alone could bring life in prison to the three defendants facing those counts if they are convicted.

Most of the arrested were from the New York and New Jersey area. Federal authorities said counterfeit items were made in China, then sent to the United States through the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal -- the East Coast's busiest port. The counterfeit goods included fake UGG boots, counterfeit Nike shoes, clothing and handbags made by designer labels.

The case unfolded after federal agents organized a bogus shipping company that said it could use its connections to help process the goods at the port. From August 2008 to February 2012, the alleged smugglers compensated the fake company with more than $900,000, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

After the goods got through the port, the boxes were transported to warehouses. According to the indictment, people in on the plot then would remove generic outer labels that had been placed there to lessen shipping costs. Once the label came off, the boxes bore labels with brand names. Wholesalers and retailers who had agreed to buy the goods -- likely believing they were the genuine article -- then received those boxes.

With so many people involved, it would not be surprising to learn that people who should not have been targeted were caught up. Anyone who learns they are being investigated should immediately contact a defense attorney, who can ensure that constitutional rights are protected.

Source: Associated Press, "NJ officials charge 29 in counterfeit goods ring," March 2, 2012

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