Bogus goods taken off streets 

Gucci knockoffs, fake Nikes and $19.95 Oakleys may lose some of their ubiquity in The City’s tourist meccas after undercover federal agents busted eight Fisherman’s Wharf stores that sold the counterfeit items.

Officials on Tuesday announced they seized nearly $100 million worth of counterfeit merchandise that was headed to or already at eight stores in Fisherman’s Wharf. Eleven people have been indicted on charges of conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.

The crackdown — the largest ever on the West Coast for counterfeit merchandise — is an attempt to scare off other merchants in Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and elsewhere that are tempted to sell the knockoffs, which often look identical, or very similar, to the real thing.

Undercover federal agents began investigating schemes to import and sell fake merchandise in winter 2007, after Customs and Border Protection officials at the Oakland Port intercepted a container that held more than 50,000 fake items.

Despite having their shipment seized, the owners of the stores apparently still continued to receive and sell knockoffs, including to undercover agents, according to the indictment. One of the suspects told an undercover agent that they can put any label, such as Prada or Louis Vuitton, on a purse, according to the indictment.

After the first shipment was discovered, investigators checked others coming in from the same source and identified the stores where they were headed. In total, they seized 230,000 items and raided eight stores during the course of 2½ years.

As fog rolled over the Golden Gate Bridge on Tuesday morning, top officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local representatives from Customs and Border Protection gathered at Crissy Field to announce the crackdown.

A walk around Fisherman’s Wharf after the announcement found a handful of stores still selling knockoffs, but merchants were tight-lipped about the source of their inventory.

While the major beneficiaries of the crackdown are likely to be the companies whose intellectual property is being stolen — and, in fact, the federal agents worked closely with the private investigators hired by those companies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton argued that governments at all levels and society at large are hurt by the sale of fake merchandise.

“Why should you care about counterfeit merchandise?” Morton said. “Counterfeits badly undermine the United States’ economy.”

Sellers of counterfeits do not pay corporate taxes, do not necessarily pay fair wages and don’t always employ Americans, he said.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russionello admitted there are still stores in Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and elsewhere selling fakes, but he said he hoped hearing about the crackdown would make them think twice about their actions.

“I think they’ll get the message now,” he said.

Selling the knockoffs

San Francisco stores indicted on suspicion of trafficking counterfeit items:

  • L & J Fashions at 2585 Taylor St. and JC Trading Co. at 269-A Jefferson St., both owned by defendants Hui Jin Chen and her boyfriend, Jia Cun Liu
  • New CWK Gift at 2655 Taylor St., owned by defendants Hui Juan Chen and De Li Chen
  • New Life Gift at 417 Beach St., owned by defendant Shelley Xue Hua Lin
  • C & K Gifts at 434 and 438 Beach St., owned by defendant Xiu Jing Ye and her husband, Kan Wen Chong
  • La Bella Boutique at 430 Beach St. and second store at the rear of 420 Beach St., owned by defendant Fernando Viseu and his wife, defendant Sok Wa Chong Viseu

Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Smart shopping

How to avoid buying knockoffs:

  • Watch out for bargains. Prices that are too good to be true probably are.
  • Inquire about guarantees and after-sale services.
  • Check labels and packaging for misspellings and altered logos.
  • Examine the quality of the items.
  • Particularly be suspicious of items at street markets, heavily visited areas, on the Internet or in any situation where it may be difficult to get in touch with the seller after the purchase.


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Katie Worth

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