Investigators tell us that Houston is a main hub in the U.S. when it comes to distributing fake handbags, sneakers and other goods. The Feds want to make sure what you are buying in stores is the real thing.
On Thursday afternoon, undercover officers with HPD's Major Offenders Squad raided the T-Max Design shop on Harwin in southwest Houston and seized more than 5,000 counterfeit T-shirts. They led the store's owner away in handcuffs.
From handbags and watches to clothing and fashion accessories, this stuff might look like authentic, high-end merchandise, but guess what? They're all designer imposters, shipped here from overseas made to look like the real deal.
Police say hundreds of businesses in Houston may be selling these goods at any given time.
"We'll target certain areas where we receive information. We'll go in, have undercover buys made. Sometimes we'll send informants in, sometimes undercover officers," said Sgt. F. Quinn with HPD.
Los Angeles, New York and Houston are major distribution hubs for counterfeit goods shipped into the U.S., mainly from China. The sale of these designer knockoffs is such big business that last week in his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama said it was time to crack down on counterfeiters and announced the creation of a new trade enforcement unit.
"There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders," President Obama said.
Since April 2010, local and federal investigators in Houston have arrested 64 people and they've seized more than $21.3 million worth of counterfeit merchandise. So many resources are put into these cases because authorities see these goods as a threat to the U.S. economy.
"The profits that would otherwise be gained by U.S. corporations are now being funneled back to transnational criminal organizations responsible for creating these goods," said Andre Watson with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
These types of operations often involve local and federal authorities. ICE keeps track of the shipments that come into the U.S. and into Houston and that information is then relayed to the HPD's Major Offenders Squad so they can conduct operations like these.
Police say the store owner, who they have identified as Yong Ho Kim, will be charged with trademark counterfeiting.
ICE agents have been cracking down nationwide on counterfeit sports gear ahead of the Super Bowl. As part of Operation Fake Sweep, authorities have seized nearly 43,000 phony Super Bowl related items since the beginning of October. That's $4.8 million worth of counterfeit goods like jerseys, ball caps, and T-shirts.