$36 Million of Fake Watches Seized by U.S. Customs Agents

The U.S. Customs Service on June 22 announced it had seized almost 40,000 counterfeit watches and watch parts, worth $36 million, in a six-month operation in Los Angeles. It is the largest seizure of fake watches in the agency’s history, reports The Los Angeles Times. In comparison, just over $1 million in counterfeit watches were seized in the Los Angeles area in 2000.
More counterfeit watches are smuggled through Los Angeles than any other U.S. port of entry, say Customs officials, and fake watches are the fourth most common type of counterfeit merchandise seized.

The watches and watch parts seized in this operation were taken in three actions since last December, leading to federal indictments of three LA residents. Most of the watches came from Hong Kong as parts and were assembled in the United States, said Customs officials in the press conference at the Long Beach, Cal., federal building.

The counterfeited trademarks included Rolex, Cartier, Fossil, Movado, Bulgari, Technomarine, Tag Heuer, and Omega. Customs officials said the fakes were to be sold through the Internet and at retail outlets. The seized watches were appraised by customs specialists and experts from watch companies. Some of the fakes were are so well done that they could have been sold by authorized dealers, reflecting the of today’s counterfeiters, said Michael Fleming, Customs Service spokesman, in the Times article. They were packaged in ‘legitimate-looking boxes,’ often with fake certificates of authenticity. ‘Even some of the experts couldn’t tell’  the watches were fakes, he said.

The investigation began in late December, when Customs agents seized a package of counterfeit watch parts from Hong Kong sent to a fictitious name in Los Angeles. That led to confiscation of some 12,000 watches on Jan. 31 at a storage facility in Los Angeles. Another 28,000 counterfeit watches came from a showroom at the California Mart in downtown Los Angeles on May 11, said the report.

Customs officials say investigation of this counterfeit watch operation — which is continuing — has already led to some indictments. A federal grand jury on Mar. 9 indicted three residents of LA (including a Guatemalan citizen and a Philippine citizen) for various trademark law violations. They go to trial July 31. If convicted, each could face up to 10 years in federal prison on each count.

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