$36M in Fake Watches Seized by U.S. Customs

The U.S. Customs Service has seized almost 40,000 counterfeit watches, worth $36 million, during a six-month operation in Los Angeles. It’s the largest seizure of fake watches in the agency’s history, says Loraine E. Brown, U.S. Customs Special Agent in Charge, Office of Investigations, Los Angeles. In comparison, just over $1 million worth of counterfeit watches were seized in 2000 in the Los Angeles area, where more fake watches are smuggled than in any other U.S. port of entry, say Customs officials.

Agents also confiscated thousands of watch parts and presses to assemble them. Most of the watches came from Hong Kong as parts and were put together in the United States, said Customs officials in their June 22 press conference at the Long Beach, Calif., federal building. The watches and parts were seized in three raids since December and have led to federal indictments of three people.

The counterfeited trademarks included Rolex, Cartier, Fossil, Movado, Bvlgari, TechnoMarine, TAG Heuer, and Omega, among others. Customs officials said they would have been sold through the Internet and at retail outlets. Some of the watches were so well done that “even the experts couldn’t tell” immediately that they were counterfeits, reflecting the “sophistication” of today’s counterfeiters, said Michael Fleming, Customs Service spokesman, in an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The investigation began in late December, when Customs inspectors in Caron, Calif., seized a package of counterfeit watch parts sent from Hong Kong to a fictitious name in Los Angeles. That led to confiscation of some 12,000 watches (valued at $11 million) on Jan. 31 at a storage facility in Los Angeles. Another 28,000 counterfeit watches (worth $25 million) were seized May 11 at a showroom at the California Mart in downtown Los Angeles. Agents also seized counterfeit manufacturer’s boxes and certificates of authenticity at the showroom, “clearly indicating the seized watches [were] to be sold as authentic trademark products,” said a U.S. Customs Service report.

As a result of this ongoing investigation, three people were indicted in federal court for violating federal trademark laws. One is a Guatemalan citizen living in Los Angeles, and the others are a married couple, one a Philippine citizen, living in Walnut, Calif. All were scheduled for trial July 31. If convicted, each could get up to 10 years in federal prison on each count of trademark law violation.

Fake watches are the fourth most common type of counterfeit merchandise seized, say Customs officials.